Second Life: Virtual world training wheels for corporate America

Second Life: Virtual world training wheels for corporate America

Summary: As you may know, I'm not a huge fan of the Second Life buzz and especially the now-cliche Second Life meeting-press conference-party-brainstorming session. My biggest hurdle: I just don't get the appeal for companies or gamers.

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TOPICS: IT Employment
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As you may know, I'm not a huge fan of the Second Life buzz and especially the now-cliche Second Life meeting-press conference-party-brainstorming session.

My biggest hurdle: I just don't get the appeal for companies or gamers. My other nagging question: Are corporate activities in Second Life--the hotels, the PR firm offices, the news bureaus, meetings and brainstorming sessions--all that cutting edge? Why exactly are all these companies popping up in Second Life? Where’s the value added?

Aside from the off-the-record corporate answer--a Second Life office gives us some cheap press--I was hurting for any insight on what value a Second Life island provided a company.

At the Terra Nova State of Play conference in New York Friday I found my answer. "Companies flock to Second Life because it's not threatening to businesses," says Edward Castronova, an Indiana University professor who runs the university's Synthetic Worlds Initiative. "It's like a Web 3.0 product. It's a 3D Web page. For visitors, a Second Life visit is the equivalent of saying 'I went to the company's Web page.'"

Castronova argues that there are more interesting possibilities for companies experimenting with the dynamics of multiplayer games such as the World of Warcraft. A few companies are studying virtual world design and how it could impact their structure. The problem with selecting a more advanced role playing game over Second Life: "It's a bigger step for a company to allow employees to be a wizard," says Castronova.

He's not kidding. Picture IBM CEO Sam Palmisano's current Second Life avatar (suit, tie, same eyeglasses). Now picture him in wizard garb and hurling fireballs and collecting weapons.

Bottom line: There's a better way for corporations to use virtual worlds, but we're still in the training wheels stage.

Rutgers professor Greg Lastowka summed it up at a State of Play panel:

"There's this fuss about Second Life in the news and famous names making an appearance. There's a lot of media interest in this and a desire to see something radical. It makes me wince. The headlines are like: 'Virtual cow gives virtual milk."

Topic: IT Employment

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4 comments
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  • So much missed opportunity

    I was thinking/blogging about this just yesterday

    http://blogs.opml.org/amyloo/2006/11/30#playingToStrengths

    So much sitting around goes on. It could be different.
    amyloo
  • Skepticism

    Keep up the good work and keep up the skepticism, it's necessary.

    I'm always puzzled by Castranova's response to SL. I can't imagine why he'd find the prefigured, controlled game of WoW with its stilted formulaic quests and predictable leveling up and very limited communications to the very robust and complex world of SL which has a real economy.

    I'm waiting to see what these companies do in SL besides talk about the technology itself.
    Prokofy Neva
  • It's an amusing thought, but I just don't see it

    It's an amusing thought, but I can see it now: The boss and the entire company playing video games as a part of business XD.

    No, I think they're probably going to stick with virtual worlds like Second Life, and even then it probably won't last very long, as it's not much more than marketing, and marketing changes all the time.

    Second Life is appealing because you can buy your own land, create your own virtual shop or house, and create custom items to offer the customers. It basically becomes a virtual advertisement for a physical business. WoW and other MMORPGs don't offer such things, so I doubt businesses will want to use them. Besides, the terms and conditions of many MMORPGs don't allow ads.

    It's an amusing thought, but I'd have to say no, it's not gonna happen.
    CobraA1
  • Value of SL to corporate America?

    [i] Aside from the off-the-record corporate answer?a Second Life
    office gives us some cheap press?I was hurting for any insight on
    what value a Second Life island provided a company.[/i]

    It gives a controlled press conference? All of the non-verbal
    communication is censored and multiple people can edit the text
    sent to the characters.
    palmwarrior