Mar 112009
 

Below are my introduction slides from ad:tech 2009 earlier this week. It is such a short time (each panel is given 50 minutes) to cover such a vast area and myself, Jeff (habbo.com.au) and Mitch (SmallWorlds.com) were all struggling to impart tons of great info/examples and have enough time to get interactive. I hogged the first 15 minutes by giving a broad overview and some examples I have been involved in that fitted the brief of the talk.

Below are my slides, a little descriptive text below that and at the bottom of this post some deeper insight into SmallWorlds (given most of my readers probably know Habbo already? – If not, Why Not!? ). I included one slide from Jeff Brookes set looking at Hitwise’s stats on browser worlds and other sites in terms of session length which will no doubt raise a few eyebrows!

Virtual Worlds & Business: What’s The ROI?

Virtual worlds are maturing at a rapid rate and brands are realising there are valuable business opportunities within them. Whether the objective is engagement, research or brand presence, virtual worlds are proving to be a legitimate marketing channel. In this session our panel will look to provide insights into the business benefits of working within a virtual world.

Presenters

  • Gary Hayes, Director, Laboratory for Advanced Media Production, AFTRS & CEO MUVEDesign (Australia’s leading SL developer!)
  • Jeff Brookes, Regional Director – Asia Pacific, Sulake Corporation (habbo.com.au)
  • Mitch Olson, Co-Founder, SmallWorlds.com

There were several important messages in my introduction. Firstly making sure we all understand the different platforms social virtual worlds are operating on so I briefly described

  1. Layered or Parallel worlds – cute 2D type avatars that move over the top of 2D web
  2. Browser Worlds – walled garden that run inside web browsers, often as isometric views as flash or shockwave
  3. Client Worlds – anything from 20MB to 3GB downloads of data and the world is obviously much richer than browser worlds but do need higher spec computers
  4. Console Worlds – a relatively new kid on the block, social spaces that exist on games consoles. All the rendering grunt is there and the avatars are often linked to the PS3, Wii or XBox360 real life account. PS3 Home is the easiest way to match to worlds like Habbo or There.com
  5. Note there are hybrids of the above and I would put ExitReality down as a hybrid of 1 and 3 as it turns a web page into a client style world

Here are the images of the above part of the presentation

worlds_platforms

I decided that a good ‘spine’ to hang the introduction on was the sort of negative questions floating around from those who don’t really understand what’s happening with web 3.0, the live virtual world space. This includes the paranoid printed press, a few out-of-touch businesses, and digital media companies/consultants more interested in iPhone/mobile games or Facebook widgets which is something they can truly explain (read: make money off).

Press hyperbole or myths?

  • Virtual Worlds are on the decline?
  • There’s no one in them?
  • & people don’t spend long there?
  • They are for kids or social ‘games’ not business?
  • There are no marketing models?

But I then addressed each question in turn showing real world stats and examples. Obviously in recession investment in new tech/services are going to be hit and recent reports do suggest a consolidation of investment into kids worlds, hinting at a lowering of VC in the ones I highlighted in my presentation, but this whole area is still something education & business are advised to R&D and understand fully – as a minimum. As we know it will be new ways of doing business, more immersive and efficient ways to collaborate and alternate forms of entertainment that will be partly what will bring us out of recession.

I finished the talk with a quick overview of the main models that virtual worlds (and most online games) can be monetized. Items 1, 3 and 4 were picked up in a talk on the 2nd day of ad:tech looking at how Nike engaged with console ingame campaign experts Massive across a few platforms.

  1. Static Advertising
  2. Promotions & Sponsored events
  3. Virtual Goods & Product Placement
  4. Dynamic InWorld Advertising
  5. Branded Spaces
  6. AdverWorlds & AdverGames

After my talk some great examples from Jeff Brookes from Habbo followed by Mitch from Smallworlds. I am always fascinated by the methods Habbo engages with its loyal and large community and was equally fascinated by Small worlds thinking too and how they are ‘integrating’ themselves with the existing 2D social networked web. This video by the infamous Robert Scoble features Mitch Olsen and Ted of SmallWorlds

They talk about the main traditional world features but then go onto the interesting areas of embeddable worlds (the Google Lively Killer app – not exploited), API integration with almost anything (twitter feeds, YouTube vids, FB updates on walls anyone) and the most interesting ‘missions’. You are encouraged to explore, meet folk, shop and basically get involved – Mitch says this is like the LinkedIn profile thinking, until your profile is 100% filled in you feel like you are missing out. I likened it much more like World of Warcraft, set players tasks, set them group tasks, give them rewards. This to me could be SmallWorlds real killer applet. At the moment they have around 400 000 users and that looks set to take off in the next months.

Tony Fendall blogged about a particularly cute feature that allows (his words) –

One important thing which was missed is that they didn’t have time to talk about all the cool micropayment features (which Ted alludes near the end) such as Gambit, OfferPal and Zong. Gambit and OfferPal are both services which allow users to earn SmallWorlds currency by completing tasks. These tasks include things such as answering surveys and give amounts of currency proportional to the amount of effort put in. This is a great way for players (who may not have a credit card) to still be able to earn a premium SmallWorlds experience. Zong is a simple cell phone payment service, where by users can pay for a premium SmallWorlds experience using their mobile phone. For an excellent look at how we have integrated Zong into SmallWorlds, check out this YouTube video created by the developers at Zong:

Note a cross post from Gary’s other main blog personalizemedia

Feb 232009
 

What may save TV may also truly grow Social Virtual Worlds. As online audiences continue to ignore TV and vanilla/social virtual worlds suffer from a lack of direction, perhaps the marriage of the two will save both from irrelevancy? A report by Gary Hazlitt in various TV branded virtual world spaces. (original post on personalizemedia)

twinityspiritThere have been several forays by TV properties (gradually losing their audience and associated ad revenues) into social virtual worlds over the past two years. I don’t just mean branded one-off events but actually setting up shop, building a familiar and representive space for the ‘users’ to play in. These forays range from at one end, simple branded spaces pushing episodes on screens through to actually running variants of the TV format to be played out by participant avatars in a detailed build -with many points in-between. But before the meat of the post (a couple of new entrants) here is a quick list to give you an idea of some of the shows and channels that have tried, had some success or failed. As I have been involved in a few of them and visited all, I have listed ones I think have had most impact (engagement) through to those who didn’t quite get it (reversioning).

  1. NBC’s Gossip Girl
  2. MTV’s – Laguna Beach on There.com (also Hills, PimpMyRide etc)
  3. Big Brother – PersonalizeMedia detailed report & at launch
  4. Showtimes The L Word
  5. CBS – CSI:New York and from TechCrunch
  6. Weather Channel – Info, simulations and Extreme Sports area
  7. Australia’s ABC TV Island – Channel & some programmes (eg: Librarians)
  8. NBC Universal Media Island – Channel & concerts & events
  9. London Live – the first music show to appear on the cyberchannel: Virtual Life.TV
  10. SkyNews Island – News Set role play
  11. The Money Programme BBC screening
  12. Channel 4 – Radio Station
  13. Sundance Channel – Virtual screening room
  14. Inhabited TV 1997! – BBC, BT, Illuminations and others
  15. many more…0ver to you and comments!

twinityspirit01There is a rule of thumb regarding TV execs and virtual worlds or serious games initiatives – do not let the TV folk take control as they have too much ingrained baggage around non-participatory media and the resultant compromise is often of no use to anyone – get people who understand game play (and be aware that often excludes traditional game developers) and social media involved or face the consequences. The ones above that really worked allowed the participant audience to really ‘live’ in the shoes of the characters either by having activities similar to the protagonists, meeting the ‘fictional characters’, a social space that resonated with the shows aesthetic or a great set with game-like elements. I have talked a lot about Mixed Reality Entertainment in the past and how one of the most innovative uses of virtual space is to extend the TV or Film property into a 24/7, participatory environment. The main reason for doing this is to drive traffic to the TV but also to keep existing followers loyal to the branded property. As an example there is more detail about the reasoning on my post on Big Brother (good and bad) in Second Life (Witnessing the Birth of an Entertainment Form) as well as posts nearby on CSI in Second Life and many of MTVs properties in There.com (TV Property Branded Virtual Worlds – The Beginning). There are moves around the world including BBC and many European broadcasters who are creating worlds alongside and in some cases in front of the TV episodics and this is the important point. Promoting films with games or virtual world spaces has a very limited life span, forging a strong link between virtual world events and TV episodics is to me a virtuous circle – especially considering the 200 plus worlds populated by the youth audience who are typically turning off TV – teens and tweens. Earlier there were many experiments of TV/World hybrids and I was involved, as mentioned before, in the Mirror. Here is John Wyver (then Illuminations) talking about that (remember this is circa 1997!).

The other key element that contributed to the success of The Mirror, much as in real life, was the provision of regular “hosts” for the space. These needed to be frequent visitors who spent a significant amount of their time in the world, and whom users could have some reasonable expectation of encountering when they logged on. These hosts would greet new entrants, introduce people to each other, point out activities and generally help people around. More than this, however, over time they became the core of the community of the world, encouraging people to return and beginning to develop the particular language and culture of The Mirror. Needless to say, they were the saddest to see it turned off after seven weeks – although a number of relationships begun virtually have continued in the real world – including at least one marriage and one recently born child.

Recent company start-ups or collaborations also suggest that there are moves afoot. Icarus studios are squarely aiming at the TV/VirtualWorld hybrid and about 18 months ago Endemol & EA teamed up to create Virtual World TV formats (VirtualMe) based on Deal or No Deal and Big Brother. Also there have been a plethora of immersive film launches (play-in-the-set-type builds) across the metaverse and I Legend, Digital Hollywood, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace and Transformers spring to mind as I write – but as I said this post is more to do with a continuous, what happens on TV resonantes into the virtual world and what happens there is reflected into the TV episodics. (I regularly consult on this specific area so won’t go into any more detail!)…

habbo_heroes_image2

So, it is interesting to see this trend continuing as new world Twinity starts to do more experiential ‘film’ property marketing and even more ‘demographically focussed’ the current series of Heroes being extended into Habbo

The agreement was brokered by the William Morris Agency and marks the first time ‘Heroes’ has partnered with a virtual world.

..but not in the usual way. As reported by LA Times “‘Heroes’ hops on to Habbo’s virtual world” they will be introducing a virtual-only character Syn Anders who will act as a bridge or guide to the TV series. NBC themselves give more detail here.

While following directions from a mysterious virtual messenger, the new character will take the audience on an adventure as she discovers the history of ‘Heroes’ through a journey that travels back and forth between Habbo.com and the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site. “We’re excited to work with Habbo to introduce a new character that will extend the enormously popular and Emmy® Award winning ‘Heroes’ interactive story beyond the official Web site on NBC.com,” said Stephen Andrade, senior vice president, Digital Development and General Manager, NBC.com. On Habbo.com, fans of the show will be able to interact with the new virtual hero through a variety of in-game activities. Habbos participating in a weeklong quest will discover their own special powers and will be recruited as new heroes. Those who successfully complete the mission will be awarded various virtual prizes. On the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site, the new virtual hero will be woven into several of the in-universe, interactive extensions of the on-air show, including a character profile, the Primatech Paper Assignment Tracker and new chapters of the ‘Heroes’ graphic novels.

This is a great use of virtual worlds and it also shows that you don’t need richly rendered environments to be able to engage with participants in these spaces. Also in terms of the ‘linking’ paradigm, it is close to ‘my’ level 3 wikipedia cross-media definition

Excerpt “Cross-media 3.0 – Bridges. – The truest form of cross-media where the story or service structure is specifically authored to drive the audience using strong Call-To-Actions, across media devices to continue the journey. The content placed on the other platform is critical to staying in touch with the experience and the narrative bridges tease you towards investigating or moving to another media form/platform. Obvious examples include a TV show that ends suddenly and gives you a URL to explore more. It may be an SMS that teases and points you towards a live concert in a city square which then leads you to a TV show, then to a podcast then to subscription emails. The trigger, or bridge, is the critical component of this in motivating the cross-media action.”

twinityspirit02Onto Twinity and the images here and above are me playing around in the pre-build set of the recently released and not universally praised film The Spirit. Although it grossed $10 million in the first 4 days it was pulled up for being unemotional and 2D. Well part of the problem generally with many big features now is that audiences have changed and want something more experiential – especially with ‘comic-noir’ films – why not let them ‘live’ in the story environment (my wikipedia item)? Twinity though have teamed up with Will Eisner studios to do this event (not in any way my ideal episodic but potentially a way for the Twinity user base to ‘create episodic, comic-noir’ machinima on-going?

CineStar Spirits you Away to Another World – CineStar’s CUBIX cinema in virtual Berlin is the premiere address for all movie-related events in Twinity. The cinema is currently showing the trailer and other exciting movie material from the upcoming premiere of The Spirit, a movie based on Will Eisner’s cult 1940s comic book series, which will be coming to a cinema screen near you from 5 February. Fans of the movie can get their hands on exclusive Spirit merchandising: including posters, standees, and an incredible Spirit mask that lets you see special visual effects inworld. Find more information here. Save the date and come to the opening party!
Date: Monday, 2 February
Time: 17:00 Berlin, 11am NYC, 00:00 Singapore
Where: CineStar CUBIX

twinityspirit03Twinity (by Metaversum, the German created virtual world) are a long ways from a mature stable platform, hence being in beta for the past 12 months or so, but are already exhibiting the best ‘world-led’ event-based, user activation. This in my mind is high on the list of reasons for likely success over many of the areas that over-hyped Second Life suffered from in the early days. OK the world is quite big and empty and many ‘social’ tools are not yet available inworld but the kind of activity quoted below (calling for videos, images, stories etc: attached to some well know brands) is great first step community building and more importantly getting a growing community to market for you. Even I had a go at one a few months ago – video embedded below 🙂 BTW Metaversum you really need to improve the video tools (detached camera please!).

Submit Your Artwork and Win! – Take part in The Spirit Screenshot and Machinima Contest and win an exclusive film poster signed by cult film director Frank Miller or The Spirit action figures.
Things Are Looking A Little Different Around Here…
Wear the mask and see Twinity through the eyes of the Spirit! – Use Twinity’s screenshot and recording tools to create incredible Spirit- inspired images! To be eligible to win the contest, screenshots must be created while wearing the Spirit Mask and its ‘visual effects’ must be demonstrated in your machinima. Screenshots may be submitted in jpg, png or gif formats.
Sensational Prizes – You have the chance to win sensational The Spirit prizes! Three prizes will be given out to the lucky winners of the Screenshot and Machinima Contest:
* 1st prize: The Spirit action figure and film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 2nd prize: The Spirit film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 3rd prize: The Spirit action figure
To take part in the contest, all you have to do is:

  • Submit your screenshots together with your Twinity name to quest@twinity.com or
  • Upload your movie to a video sharing website, for example “YouTube”, then submit the link to your uploaded video together with your Twinity name to quest@twinity.com
  • Competition deadline: 28 February 2009

We’ll celebrate the winning entries with a Winner’s Gallery party in the CineStar Event Hall! Artwork will be displayed in the CUBIX cinema during The Spirit promotion. Keep an eye on Twinity’s Event Calendar for further details!

Of course I would encourage all TV producers to think about their current audience and whether they want to reach them this way. More importantly you need to think of the appropriateness of creating inworld characters or environments for them to exist in – serious games (from documentaries) and childrens episodics are hot ones at the moment . The real effort is more about having great characters that are persistant in the space but beware of bots or NPC’s (non player characters) pretending to be real, this can have a strong counter productive effect. More later.