by: C. Sven Johnson

Seems as if the marketing/videogame/metaverse blogosphere is full of posts and comments discussing yet another round of embarrassingly amateurish mainstream media articles and commentary on Second Life.

Personally, I’m more interested in discussing the future of this technology than in trading comments with people who obviously prefer shadenfreude to critical thinking. So instead of getting wrapped up in what seems to me to be a complete waste of time, I want to go beyond the current issues and play a game of “What if?”


The thing that strikes me most now is that if we collectively assume for a moment that all the problems with Second Life are resolved -

  • the graphics are state-of-the-art even while running on an outdated computer
  • the user interface is sufficiently intuitive that even the visually-impaired can navigate it
  • anti-corporate, role-play armies of griefers all turn into obedient little credit card-carrying/using/abusing consumers
  • residents - who in the real world are relentlessly bombarded by sex-selling advertisers - suddenly lose all interest in humankind’s favorite recreation
  • and all the conditions are ripe for real world businesses to go in on their own conditions and set up shop

    - what then?

    I’ve seen Multiverse mentioned as perhaps some kind of better option for corporations wanting to get their marketing message out to the public; a system that will somehow magically provide all these things to desperate advertising and marketing groups. Okay. Not all these things. But apparently one primary thing: Control.

    The theory, apparently, is that corporations will be able to build their own safe little worlds and have each connected to others which are just like their world. No fringe elements. No foul-mouthed Furries. And most definitely no user-created content that’s not heavily screened.

    It’d basically be a wonderfully standardized, conformist and controllable Big Brother network in Interacto-Vision. A “grid of grids” much like what I anticipate Linden Lab is working on now; only it’d be a “marketing and advertising grid of branded worlds”… with Homeworld Security maintaining an ideal virtual shopping environment for Stepford Wives everywhere.

    We might think of the “grid” as the Big Box galaxy, and the little grids as the happy supplier solar systems. Within each “little grid” would be product category planets (e.g. Health and Beauty Venus, Automotive Supply Mercury, Guns ‘n Ammo Mars, aso).

    Further down, each island/sim/city/”level” on a planet would essentially be a 30-second television commercial turned into a three-dimensional Ikea-like retail maze where smiley-faced consumers get to play with none-too-subtle product-pitching content in high resolution, interactive glory.

    Let’s say a company manufactures a range of automotive products. Well, one level might be about wax while another might be about rear view mirror-hanging air fresheners. Or, if a company is all about personal hygiene, players might level up by learning how to use soap or deodorant.

    Pretty enthralling, huh? But don’t worry. They’re thinking of doing away with the monthly subscription.


    As should now be apparent, what I’ve not yet seen explained is how a company that sells toilet paper is going to be able to leverage virtual world technology to their benefit, even if they get everything they claim they need to be successful in a place like Second Life… which is, in my opinion, still the best representation of what a possible future Internet might look like.

    That leads me to ask: if they did get everything they claim they need, will someone like Claudia Kotchka lead an initiative to create a Proctor & Gamble galaxy filled with planets named for mops and laundry detergents? And if so, exactly how much money do they think it’ll cost to develop their sleek new state-of-the-art cybershop; the one that consumers will be itching to spend their free time exploring? Will it cost the few tens of thousands people are shocked to hear big corporations spending on efforts in Second Life? Will it only cost in the neighborhood of a mere $10M, like Gears of War? Or will it run closer to $30M, like

    The next question I ask is: have any of the marketers crying about lack of control in Second Life ever really stopped to question whether or not average consumers actually want a Swiffer Galaxies or an EverTide? I mean, if they’re looking at developing compelling and engaging content - and even development on a canned system like Multiverse is going to chew through a lot of development money - you’d think it’d be obvious they ask those kinds of questions. However, based on what I’ve read and seen so far, the answer is: “No, they don’t wonder” about this anymore than they wonder whether or not viewers want some 30-second erectile dysfunction commercial interrupting their favorite television show. How else do we explain the bewilderment of those companies who have already set up isolated (and largely ignored) islands in Second Life and have pulled out because… *gasp*… no one cared about their brand.


    For the past couple of years I’ve given quite a bit of thought to how the kinds of clients I usually serve could leverage virtual worlds. The thing is, at no point have I come to the conclusion that letting users role play superheroes in City of Igloo was the answer. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, I think there is a worthwhile solution that satisfies everyone. I just don’t believe anyone is going to figure it out employing old school thinking and “push” media techniques.

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