Gary Arthur Douglas II on the 3 Most Overlooked Business Opportunities in Second Life

Today's post is one in a series by virtual world artist and developer Gary Arthur Douglas II, a 15-year veteran of systems development and an accomplished artist to boot. Gary is the founder of Wishfarmers, LLC, a full service virtual world consultancy with expertise in content development, digital marketing, and virtual business plan development

The Case Before the Virtual Court

You may have read me elsewhere railing against “real-world
replication” in Second Life. If not, just take my word for it – to hear me go
on, you'd think I was defending the Sistine Chapel from graffiti artists.

I'm
referring of course to design models for Second Life that produce environments
you would see in the real world: Buildings have doors and roofs, meetings have podiums,
aisles of chairs and distant “back rows”, et cetera.

This is all really great – for making everyone feel less
connected than ever before. After all, no one is harmed if your avatar sits
right next to your favorite author's avatar – why shouldn't you be allowed to? But
enough of that.

How exactly do I get wound-up about an essentially aesthetic
issue? Am I just another native complaining about the gradual homogenization of
Second Life's funky and unique indigenous culture? Actually that's a valid
complaint, and a worthy cause (sign me up) – but the aesthetics resulting from “real-world
replication” don't wind me up. They just plain bore me.

But after years of listening to people complain about the
timid response to Second Life promotional campaigns for consumer businesses,
it's just impossible for me to not demand that the true culprit be acknowledged.

And the culprit is boredom.

People Like Fun. Start There.

Duh. And they like to have fun with their friends. Duh. In
Second Life, you get to have fun with your friends. It's all sort of a
no-brainer so far.

Ironically, when a brand like BMW (or any organization) decide
to leverage this new medium, the first thing they toss-out is the fun. Followed
shortly by friendliness. We could talk about “no fly” policies and other
ill-considered mistakes, but let's just focus for now on the direct impact of the
“real-world” course of design thinking.

In the real world, the consumer paradigm goes something like
this: You put up a location and staff it – then you spend lots of money to get
people out of their homes and into your store so you can sell them stuff. That
makes sense, in the real world – because you have to get them in front of you
to deliver the product.

I know Second Life looks something like the real world – but
it's not. And in a virtual world, that real world paradigm is upside-down.
Unless you are selling virtual goods, what you're really trying to do is get
your brand in front of the audience, right?

So why should you care how that is accomplished? There's no
need to demand, for example, that they conform to walking instead of flying, or
looking a certain way. In fact, you have no need (nor right) to expect that
they will interrupt their activities for you at all.

You need to think less like you are replicating the real
world, and more like you are taking part in an entertainment venue. On
television, it would be ridiculous to expect viewers to tune to a special
channel just to watch your commercial. You have to make yourself interesting –
or part of something interesting – or flatly no one will care. There are better
things to watch.

New thinking isn't easy, and you might have a hard time dreaming
up ways to use such a new medium – but there are plenty of native experts to
turn to for help.

But just to put my money where my mouth is, I'm going to
give you three promotional opportunities in Second Life that are easy,
effective and woefully underutilized – but completely obvious once you stop thinking
in terms of real-world replication.

Three Overlooked
Promotional Opportunities in Second Life

1) Distributed Applications

Engaging the audience does not have to mean interrupting
whatever it is they're involved in. There are all of these neat networking
capabilities in Linden Scripting Language (LSL) that can be used to create distributed
applications that residents can use “in their own (virtual) home”, so to speak.

Instead of demanding that they spend of all their time on
your island, why not create something that they can take away from their visit?
It could be a news updates device, toy with community contributions – just
about anything with content that you can update over time. Not only is this
entirely feasible, but it's been done (just not enough). And again there are
professionals in the Solution Provider Program to do it for you.

2) Heads Up Displays

While these are also a type of distributed application, I
differentiate them here because of the tremendous opportunity they could
represent. Heads-Up Displays (HUDs) in Second Life become for all intents and
purposes a part of the user interface. There are HUDs to suit all sorts of
needs in Second Life, from handling avatar animations to finding jobs to
special tools for developers.

The most popular HUDs remain attached to the user's
interface all the time (because they are useful). That's right – if you played
your cards right, you could practically integrate your brand right into the Second
Life experience. You will simply need to strike the proper balance of form and
function.

3) Widely-Distributed “Virtual Goodies”

In fact, just about anything useful or fun that you can give
away will be welcomed by Second Life residents. Of course it's best if you can
relate it to your brand, but don't get too hung up on that. What you should get
hung up on is making sure it is something they will want.

I have a whole article about virtual goodies, but suffice it
to say that virtual world residents love clothes, toys, gadgets, games – there
are so many possible opportunities here, that it's easier if you just lookaround
one of the shopping portals for a while. And when you see a wildly popular
virtual item, think about how it would look with your branding. That is the
opportunity.

My own company has distributed over 2,000 virtual goodies
for Second Life in the past 9 months. Each one helps cultivate the brand and
link to internet venues, making virtual goodies one of our most effective
marketing measures, in both cost and impact.

If what you offer residents is really useful (and/or fun),
you will find it easy to disseminate via multiple web venues (XstreetSL, for
example) – and by allowing users to give copies to their friends. In return,
you will have an opportunity to remind the audience of your brand and what you
do, and possibly even link them to your website. Considering that a successful
promotional item as described above is likely to remain in circulation for years,
that is a very good deal.

Don't spoil it by demanding more of their time and attention
than you deserve – that's not friendly.

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