« EverQuest to Integrate Card Game With MMO | Main | Goldilocks and the Three EULAs »

Aug 19, 2007



"today's panel left me in a Marxian mood -- it seems that, as usual, there is little reason to bet against the powers that be."

You need to adopt a Schumpeterian mood ;) There's some hope in the notion that the 'powers that be' today won't be the same as 'the powers that will be' in some tomorrow. My hopes are pinned on the 'long tail'....


I can imagine that fear of losing control of the brand does indeed make some corporate types very, very nervous. You are not the only subversive out there, Thomas, and it's only a matter of time before one of these volunteer ad-writers gives them something more than they bargained for.


Thomas...Should we expect the podcast anytime soon? Doubt you have anything to do with that, but worth a shot. Says it should be live, do you happen to know where the link will be? Anyone else know? Yet it is 5am there at the moment so nothing to broadcast I'm sure, except maybe a snoozing farmer in the distant background...


The Schumpeter reference is especially germain to Second Life and any other virtual world that adopts an open model with user created content. My fond hope is that one day most MMORGs will be built on a common platform and will to some degree interconnect in the much vaunted 3D internet. In such a milue there will be far more scope for creativity, individuality and creative destruction than currently.

...on the other hand HTML gave us that too and look what a commercial instrument the web has become...


I'm not in Singapore and maybe I should take Valleywag off my RSS feed or stop reading Mike's posts here on TN, but.... I'm not sure how many VWs are going to follow the SL model of providing a platform for profit-motivated UGC.

The reason that question is important is that this issue of "sustaining business brands" in virtual world settings is most interesting in circumstance where the brand-owner has the capacity to either 1) deal directly with the VW platform owner or 2) the incentive to utilize the VW setting as something more than a 3D virtual advertisement. In the prior case, we're talking about the dynamics of in-game advertisements & product placement (interesting!), in the latter we're talking about something that exists primarily in SL, the in-game independent business (also interesting!).

But my hunch is that this session was motivated not by a need to explore those questions, but by the need to somehow answer the numerous articles about vacant storefronts on the SL landscape.

Seems to me that those are backfired advertising campaigns, and if I owned one of these ventures and wanted to persuade more people to pay for those kinds of projects, I'd want to change the way those advertising campaigns were implemented so they'd have a different result. A vacant storefront isn't a great portfolio piece. Hence: "sustainable branding."

And yes, it really is a bit of a greenspeak/adspeak buzzlingomutant, isn't it?


“My fond hope is that one day most MMORGs will be built on a common platform and will to some degree interconnect in the much vaunted 3D internet. In such a milue there will be far more scope for creativity, individuality and creative destruction than currently.”

Though this is a visionary goal, the VWs out the r in existence, as you know, generally do not conform to a standard. If standardization does occur it will be a long way down a winding, and at times, a treacherous road for many smaller studios out there. It would indeed strengthen what is now referred to as “independent developers” in the sense that they will become far more viable, and even perhaps the standard.

As long as the larger corporations have the ability to generate their own world engines this simply will not happen. This is where you get into the platform wars. Look at console games. I cannot see MS, Sony, or Nintendo ever agreeing to a standard system to be shared between the three consoles. It simply will never happen. A level playing field is not in the best interests of the propagators of these systems or even VWs. Exclusivity is, in the mind of cooperate entities, revenue security.

For a long time there will be no homogony between VW entities. Homogeny, to a large degree, means the loss of branding control for the creators of VWs. The solution will be much like the solution game developers deal with when creating games for consoles; a different core development team for each VW.

In this way the corporations who want to sell a product brand will be able to retain control of that brand much in the same way game developers retain control of their various IPs


Very much the same battles were fought over the evolution of the web (1.0). At first web sites were little more than SGML information boards intended to be manipulable by the browser at will. Over time corporations sought to control their brand presentation and corporate identity. I remember many cases of collisions between marketing departments wanting explicitly fixed presentation and emergent web designers wanting to convince their corporate sponsors that they "just didn't get it".

In the end it all balanced out. Not by a standard really emerging, but by a broad meta-standard supporting the entire range of intentions. Today you have everything from very agnostic corporate web sites which are easily mashable, modifiable, and filterable. On the other extreme you have very fixed sites that are all Flash, dynamically generated graphics, or fixed font/placement/position, many virtually unmashable where even basic text is javascript generated on the fly.

Nothing says that there isn't plenty of room for tight corporate control over brand within a VW. In fact, I posit that VW's future viability depends upon that being an option.


Great, substantive comments -- thanks.

@Global Metaverse: Sorry, I've no idea about the podcast prospects, not being involved in the organization of this in any way.

@JuJutsu: Lol, yes -- Schumpeter at least promises that creative destruction will keep the resources from being controlled in perpetuity by current powers, and that is some comfort. But I guess I get concerned that taking refuge in that view runs the risk of simply excusing current inequality, indefinitely postponing a critical stand.

@CherryBomb: I can't pretend that such an event wouldn't bring me a certain glee, but I can't shake the feeling that such acts of resistance wouldn't change the overall trend of commercial interests working out how to profit from users' creative labor without compensating those creators fairly, much like how TopCoder's programming contests tap into programming expertise for comparatively very low cost. To put it another way, this seems like yet another dimension of Julian's ludo-capitalism.

@randolfe_: So while I don't disagree with you that an accommodation will be reached, in a way that to me may be the problem, since that accommodation strikes me as one that is likely to exploit creative work.


I'm a huge supporter of these conversations, but there's an imperative need for people to attach expectations and measurable factors to each business project that enters a virtual world. Not every company has the same goals when entering the space and thus we cannot measure them by the same tokens.

I'd also like to offer that the Coca Cola example is a more subtle case than mentioned here. To start with, Coke has a unique communication strategy in the real world. Their approach through crayon and Millions of Us should be applauded in particular because the company stayed true and successfully adapted that real-world strategy to the new medium . It's a bit naive to think that every brand can employ that level of flexibility or that it would be equally successful in other hands.

Disclaimer: I am no longer affiliated with crayon or Millions of Us. Whatever opinions I expressed above do not reflect the official positions of Coke, crayon, or Millions of Us.


(Usual caveat: I really like SL, but...)

In marketing land, when a media salesperson starts talking to me about the "brand opportunities" in a venture, it usually means, "We have no quantitative reason for you to do this. But isn't it cool? Doesn't it feel fun/funky/interesting? Wouldn't you love to come and play in the tent with the other sponsors?"

At some point along the way, somebody came up with this idea that "branding" doesn't require the same (or similar) metrics to promotional advertising. And, at least, comparative metrics r.e. differing media.

Branding is great. I love brand advertising and strategic brand marketing. And it is done best with a good media mix. And there is certainly room for lots of neat, little efforts that fit within a greater whole. But at some point you need to draw the line and day, "This many resources ($, time, attention) could be spent on A or B... and B just has a much, much lower chance of impacting as many people."

Right now, in my mind, Second Life is "B."

Again, please remember: I really, really like Second Life. But if you asked me if I'd rather spend -- on branding efforts -- $6,000 on an SL installation, prims, promotion, etc. or a full-page ad in a decent trade mag... SL is still "B." There just aren't enough people playing who might possibly be impacted, and in ways that will have a "sustained" brand effect that's likely to be in line with the rest of a campaign.

There are exceptions now, and I expect this situation to change. But I suspect that many SL old-timers like myself are watching the current (supposed) biz exodus from SL with the same vague bemusement that we watched the ingress; shaking our virtual heads and texting, "They just don't get it..."


Greg, I was at the panel and I also felt that there was a slightly apologetic mood in the discussion. Almost everyone pointed out that collaboration is now the number one business case. According to Bret Treasure (Inside This World), using virtual worlds as a sales channel is "immature" and using them for promotion is "somewhere in the middle".

On the other hand, Ted Tagami provided substance by discussing the very metrics that Andy is asking for. While the SL campaign loses to the print in the number of contacts, the average length of time people were engaged with some SL campaign was days as opposed to minutes according to Ted. How that translates to conversion is a different question of course.

Ted also explicitly factored the buzz created outside of SL by a clever SL campaign into the ROI. The problem with this of course is that when the novelty value of doing stuff in virtual worlds is exhausted, the returns fall. This is why they were discussing sustainability.

There was little mention of virtual asset sales, which continues to spread to services like Facebook.

Btw self-promotion: check out my SoP V coverage too.


Thanks, Vili! That all makes sense.


Vili: People spend days watching TV over the course of a week or a month. What we count in the advertising world is the amount of time they're exposed to your message, not the medium.

If I spend 4 hours a day in SL, on my island, working on my prim skills and dancing w/ my buddies... that really doesn't matter to a marketer who is trying to get some kind of message across.

On the other hand, yes: the power implicit in a really great SL club or educational activity that isn't just sponsored but *saturated* with various (appropriate) brand messages might be enormous. If I associate Bacardi with the most kickin' disco on the grid, or Thompson with amazing tutorials... those are great brand moments that can't be matched by passive advertising.

The problem is that, at the moment, they're not comparable, in numbers or even activities, to many options already open to brand managers. For example, whatever arguments you have for providing or sponsoring a cool space in SL also apply to doing so in RL. If it's good for me to put up an virtual XYZ that will touch n-hundreds of SL folks, isn't it better to do one in RL that will touch n-thousands?

The real brand differentiators will come, I believe, from companies that embrace the truly unique properties of any space, whether SL or Club Penguin or whatever.

For example, while I hear of RL fashion/clothing companies setting up stores in SL, imho, a better alternative would be to host events where SL clothes and other swag with RL brand associations were modeled in-game and given away. Most folks aren't going to pay more than a dollar or two (max) for an SL outfit. But if you had a never-ending river of free, new, cool duds in your SL wardrobe, provided by American Apparel, that might get you to spend a couple hundred buck in RL.


Andy said:

Vili: People spend days watching TV over the course of a week or a month. What we count in the advertising world is the amount of time they're exposed to your message, not the medium.

If I spend 4 hours a day in SL, on my island, working on my prim skills and dancing w/ my buddies... that really doesn't matter to a marketer who is trying to get some kind of message across.

What I thought Ted Tagami said and what I tried to convey was that people were exposed to an SL campaign for days on average. I did not talk about spending time in SL while a campaign was going on on some yon island. I am not sure if Ted's comment can be taken literally, but he was making the point that an SL campaign can be more engaging than a print advertisement, which I find easy to agree with.

At the same time, I wholeheartedly agree with your criticisms. I am partner in a company that organises sponsorships in RL events. We are not planning to propose to our clients that they should move to sponsoring SL events.

For example, whatever arguments you have for providing or sponsoring a cool space in SL also apply to doing so in RL.

Except that at least until recently, if you did something in SL you might have BBC reporting on it.


(4) 肺癌


@Vili: "Except that at least until recently, if you did something in SL you might have BBC reporting on it."

Nice. Very nice.


I realize I'm coming to this discussion late, but I wanted to point out something I've noticed in discussions about the threat of institutionalization in relation to new media, during their sort of nebulous frontier stage. It can be easy to forget that print and film had their own early worries about being captured by powerful instutions which turned out to have been largely true as they became more profitable they became more compromised, though there are of course sectors in both -- independent film and publishing -- that are free of exploitation to some extent. It's also easy to say that such a process is 'natural.' But really, it's always going to seem natural as long as we limit our view, in this case, to the VWs themselves and their immediately surrounding interests. It's not hard to see that if VWs become more profitable (more accessible to more people), the opportunities for profit will be there, and the big corps will have the competitive advantage. I don't think an established egalitarian community in SL (or other VWs) is possible without making it the norm in RL. Which is to say, I think looking at SL as the 'front lines of resistance' or whatever is a mistake -- any form of resistance formed there can only be temporary and fleeting.

A really good book for this is Jonathan Beller's Cinematic Mode of Production, probably the only serious Marxist analysis of the information economy (i.e. not just mired in the problems of post-68 France) that I've been able to find. It's a history of the attention economy, starting with the development of film as value-producing industry.

p.s. click me if you want to read my blog about it.


Great stuff, Traxus. Thanks!


lol! Colonization indeed. I named my strategy consulting group Indigenis *specifically* because of the similarities between in-world natives (operating at a barter or "linden-scale" economy) and the colonizing corporations (operating at $10M at a time, down to builds that run a bit less that most SL residents might see in their whole second life).

It's exactly this feeling of colonization, conscious or not, that gives rise to the resentment against the colonial powers, as they come running rough shod on local customs and institutions, assuming their own importance and desirability, and hunting eyeballs where angels fear to tread.

So I named Indigenis and gave us the slogan "Native intelligence for virtual worlds" specifically because I feel like we need more native guides who've spent a few years in the great capital(ist culture)s of the outside world, to try to minimize the pain to all sides.

Which is why folks like Prokofy Neva think I'm the very devil, as I'm lubricating the inevitable...

Aren't the historical/cultural parallels lovely, if a little frightening? :) Shall we compare American Apparel to Jamestown, say? Oh you can spin it out I'm sure...:)


Interesting comments in this thread. I'm doing some research on value creation in virtual worlds (literal value creation-- not just using it as a marketing buzzword) and it's very interesting to see some models emerging.

We seem to have the traditional 'build it and they will come' approach of driving traffic to an MMO / SL island /etc and benefit from that (advertising, etc.), so in essence this creates a new revenue stream for the proprietor.

There's also the idea of selling virtual products in world, which again, creates a new revenue stream (albeit small,in most cases)

Some folks are using SL and other worlds as just another sales channel, so they're driving incremental revenue of real-world products by selling in SL or other virtual environments (Circuit City in SL, etc.)

These models don't get me too excited, though...I'm really interested to get some thoughts from the group on the companies/individuals who seem to be 'getting it right' by combining the unique visual and social properties of online worlds to create something...product or service, but even more likely -- an experience ... that is truly 'must-have'. I'm not counting Linden or Blizzard here since I'm excluding the actual VW / MMOG platform itself. But just like Web 1.0, I think we'll start to see some truly 'killer' experiences. Mattel is one example I can think of that has taken a traditional brand - Barbie - and has started to combine real and virtual playtime. Any other ideas/thoughts? Thanks, everyone.


The comments to this entry are closed.