Thursday, October 11, 2007

Re-thinking virtual world strategies

A couple of separate pieces exemplify some of the problems and opportunities for virtual worlds.

Firstly, Reuters reports that several companies are re-thinking their virtual world strategy. Companies spent millions to jump into the Second Life bandwagon only to find that nobody visits the vast corporate environments ("if you build it they will come", they thought, ha!). The problem with hyped technologies is that bandwagon jumping rarely works, the first innovators reap the rewards, and then there is a vast number of imitators that intend to get their share of the rewards, but rarely do (and usually are the ones who disappear when the bubble bursts). This seems to be happening with companies who spent millions into Second Life, and now realise that what people want to do with the technology is "to log on to Second Life to hang out with friends and play casual games, not visit a 3-D version of a corporate Web site."

The BBC reports that IBM has partnered with Linden Labs in order to test an avatar export utility that will allow users to, you guessed it, use their avatars across virtual worlds. I am guessing that this will encompass some form of virtual avatar standard that will map certain characteristics that can be easily transferred to other virtual worlds. I have to admit that this is an appealing prospect. Could I bring my heroes into WoW or other games? The Metaverse could be around the corner, Hiro Protagonist beware.

The uniting theme in these two items is that beyond the initial rush, there are people seriously considering the real business potential of virtual worlds. IBM seems to be betting on serving as a standard provider, and I would wager that they own a patent or two on the technology (I was not able to find one for this specific application, but look at U.S. Patent 6271843). While avatar export tools have great potential, I wonder if competitors will see it that way. The saubscription system banks precisely on the fact that some games can keep their customers for as long as they possibly can, and would not like to promote cross-platform applications.

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