Archive for March, 2009

Virtual Worlds: The Hype, The Reality, The In-Between

March 12, 2009

FountainBlue’s March 9 High Tech Entrepreneurs’ Forum was on the topic of Virtual Worlds: The Hype, The Reality, The In-Between and featured:
• Facilitator Glenn Von Tersch, Partner, TIPS Group
• Panelist Anne-Marie Roussel, Microsoft
• Panelist Michael Gialis, Business Development Manager, Project Wonderland and Project Darkstar, Sun Microsystems
• Panelist Robin Harper, Former VP of Marketing and Community Development, Second Life, Linden Labs
• Panelist Steve Nelson, Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer, Clear Ink
• Panelist Susan Stucky, Research Manager, IBM

The emergence of social virtual worlds as a cultural and business phenomenon has astounded and mystified some, and excited and profited others. In these trying economic times, people are escaping to fantasy lands and adopting new online personas, businesses are profiting from the upsurge of people actively participating at many creative levels, investors are looking carefully at the returns for existing companies, and corporations are wondering how virtual worlds will make them money, while providing better service for their customers.

Virtual World Definition:
• Wikipedia: A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment intended for its users to inhabit and interact via avatars. These avatars are usually depicted as textual, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional graphical representations, although other forms are possible (auditory and touch sensations for example). Some, but not all, virtual worlds allow for multiple users.
• Excerpted from Gartner Analyst Steven Prentice talk on July 30:
o Prentice said a virtual worlds is a presence in a space where interaction takes place in real time with digital personas.
o Prentice pointed out that our avatar’s identity represents how we want to be perceived.
How Virtual Worlds Are Different:
• There are elements of interactivity, collaboration, immersion and immediacy which distinguish virtual worlds from ‘canned’ games or regular webinars.
• There’s a potential for higher engagement and better connection between participants during the experience, which may lead to a more persistent and relevant memory. For example, a webinar in a virtual world may mean more than a regular webinar, particularly if you identify closely with your avatar.
• The best virtual worlds offer tools which make it easy for people to be creative and express themselves, connecting with others.
Advice About Virtual Worlds:
• Plan for and understand expectations from you/your company’s participation in a virtual worlds project. Make the outcomes timelined and measurable where possible.
• Consider the importance of the (positive and negative) experiences of the users and what that would say about your brand.
• Be open to letting users experiment within the virtual world, and event to take it in a direction which you may not have originally intended.
• Companies that manage virtual worlds must establish policies for behavior, taxation, democracy, economy, governance, etc., In many ways, it’s a society and a culture should be proactively managed, just like in real life.
• Creating an economy and an exchange allowed people to create their own land, reap benefits from their creativity and ideas, and own their ideas and concepts. The people who are successfully profiting from the economy on Second Life pave the way for others to do the same, and are attracting more people to investigate opportunities for themselves.
• Costs for creating a virtual world are minimal. As this is a new area, this is a good time to experiment with different revenue models and niche markets to find something that works.
• Partner with established entrepreneurial companies and established corporations to leverage their applications, research, and markets and find a win-win.
• Make your virtual world intuitive to use, to encourage mass adoption.
Opportunities for Virtual Worlds Solutions:
• Offer interactive early and secondary education and training.
• Provide interactive training and simulation games which may have military or flight/driver’s applications for example.
• Offer mapping tools which would have real-world applications, like providing law enforcement or military personnel detailed geographic maps of areas where there might be danger.
• Sales force education to learn everything from how to sell the product/service to how to manage/overcome rejection. This type of training might be more real online as avatars can get quite animated!
• Create mixed-reality concepts such as sensors in high-crime or war areas to help identify sources of gunfire for example, to respond quickly, to electronically map area, etc., all to help law enforcement and military professional proactively manage violence and protect people.
• Leverage virtual world tools for project management/collaboration training or execution or for negotiation and sales training.
• Create a virtual world call center to build better connections with customers and perhaps better collaboration between customers/between customer and company.
• Use virtual world experience for diversity or innovation training.
• Use virtual world to create support groups for people of similar interests and challenges, particularly if they have physical challenges making it difficult to connect in person with others or learning challenges like Aspergers where it might feel safer to connect and experiment with people similarly afflicted before trying out ideas and concepts live.
Ideas for Making Money on Virtual Worlds:
• Own the virtual world, like Linden Labs
• Sell virtual goods – millions of dollars can be made annually on selling virtual goods
• Create virtual world tools for mobility, analytics, decision-making, design etc.,
• Be a design agency or Sherpa to help others with their virtual world projects
• Save money on training and communication/collaboration/project management for your company with a virtual world presence.
• Build a reusable virtual world environment.
Resources:
• Blog on It’s All Virtual, by Dennis Shiao of InXpo: Insights and Experiences from Virtual Worlds Experts, http://allvirtual.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/insights-and-experiences-from-virtual-worlds-experts/
• FaceBook group for Virtual Event Strategists http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=52325833170
• Noted Gartner Analyst Steven Prentice Updates His Predictions on Virtual Worlds, August 5, 2008, Donald Schwartz for Fast Company, reporting on the opening session of Clever Zebra’s Vbusiness Expo, July 30, 2008 (http://vbusinessexpo.com) which took place on a virtual world platform created by Forterra Systems Inc (http://www.forterrainc.com). http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/donald-schwartz/fc-technology-moderator-blog/noted-gartner-analyst-steven-prentice-updates-his-
• Size of Virtual Worlds:
o Strategy Analytics http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a…
o K-Zero http://www.kzero.co.uk/blog/?page_id=2092
o 30 million active users in virtual worlds although many without a credit card
• IBM Report: Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders: Online Games Put the Future of Business Leadership on Display
http://www-07.ibm.com/innovation/au/ideas/giogaming/pdf/ibm_gio_gaming_report.pdf

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