Public Virtual Worlds Ready for Corporate Prime Time by nyb13813


									                                                                                                                                                Friday, April 24, 2009

Public Virtual Worlds:
Ready for Corporate Prime Time?                                                                                                                              BY SCOTT RANDALL

    I first became interested in the idea of                                                                           based solutions emerge. If significant user
                                                                                                                       migration takes place, marketing investments in
business simulations as a guest at a
                                                                                                                       custom content developed for a particular world
Systems Dynamics conference at MIT                                                                                     – and perhaps the platform itself – could become
in1990, but the concept of immersive                                                                                   obsolete as soon as…tomorrow.
                                                                                                                             Finally, with no legal access to information
virtual learning platforms have been                                                                                   about users, it is difficult for marketers to know
around ever since the earliest ‘automated                                                                              anything about the people they are recruiting for
                                                                                                                       a focus group or a product test. How could one
teaching machines’ were built with                                                                                     tell, for instance, that the people who show up at
punch-card technology in the 1950s.                                                                                    the test are actually the people who received
                                                                                                                       invites and not competitors or hackers?
Now, massively multiplayer game
technology allows interconnectivity, 3D                                                                             Let’s have a meeting…
                                                                                                                         There are some other interesting issues with
graphics, and advanced physics-based                                                                                public virtual worlds, which allow various
behaviors for multiple users. All of a                                                                              nuisance behaviors to take place, seemingly in
                                                                                                                    accordance with their Terms of Service*.
sudden, the possibilities for computer-
                                                                                                                    Because public worlds are essentially anony-
based simulations seem endless.                                                                                     mous public platforms, which anyone may use
                                                                                                                    any way he or she chooses, outposts there
     Widely distributed broadband access, changing user population                      expose corporations and their customers to lewd content, nuisance
demographics and evolving networking and 3D graphics technology are                     behavior, virtual vandalism, intellectual property theft, fraud, and other
converging to create an environment where thousands of users can, and do,               potential abuses.
interact and in virtual worlds every day.                                                    Residents can be “robbed” of the content/intellectual property they
     Corporations across America are reacting by investing time and money               create or import into a world with a script known as a ‘copybot’, which
in the creation of outposts there in the belief, or hope, that they will be             takes a resident’s entire inventory and removes any restricted permissions
appropriate for a range of corporate initiatives including:                             so that any object in the inventory - including a resident’s own avatar - can
            • Branding and Advertising                                                  be modified, copied, and even disseminated.
            • Product Testing and Market Research                                            Although owners move to outlaw, disallow and disincentivize nuisance
            • Corporate Training and Learning                                           behavior as it emerges - “griefers” are relentless when it comes to
            • Talent Recruiting                                                         inventing disruptive activity in the metaverse – and there are no real-world
            • Organizational Collaboration                                              legal consequences to any such activity.
     Public 3D virtual worlds are made available by their owners who also
operate them, house their content on proprietary servers and freely                     Buckle Your Seatbelts…
distribute their client application.                                                         Building a corporate presence in a public virtual world means
     World users are sometimes known as residents, and their in-world                   investing in a platform which is maintained, and sometimes significantly
graphic representation is called their avatar. Users can view, navigate and             altered, at the sole discretion of its owner/operator.
even modify the virtual world and in some cases participate in the world’s                   The grid of physical servers networked to form these continuous
virtual economy through the creation and monetization of custom in-world                universes must be periodically maintained. Owners schedule maintenance
content.                                                                                or sometimes shut their grids down in an emergency with no regard to any
     The potential that virtual worlds hold for business is palpable, but,              in-world activities, public or private, that may be scheduled or in progress.
public ones? There are questions about whether these worlds were                             Since all content resides on this grid of servers, nothing in the universe
designed to fill many of the roles that are being imagined for them by                  is accessible at during these maintenance periods. In a recent official blog
media outlets and business operators. Let’s take a look.                                post, a virtual world operator- employee likened these software upgrades to
                                                                                        “changing the engine of an airliner at 40,000 feet” .
A Virtually Intelligent Risk?
     For marketers, Second Life offers immediate value to some in its                   The Fine Print
ability to generate mainstream media coverage for “first mover” status.                      Finally, the Terms of Service of some virtual worlds make intellectual
Now that the novelty has worn off and the press has moved on somewhat,                  property ownership a questionable proposition, by some readings. Since
this benefit may be waning.                                                             the case law around digital property rights is in its infancy, and with virtual
                     Secondly, time marches on. Assuming that the millions              worlds at the very edge of that legal envelope, the security of intellectual
                of alleged users in a world exist, and even if the world is             content used for branding, training and corporate meeting applications has
                continuously maintained and upgraded, it is vulnerable to               yet to be defined.
                user-base shrinkage as more robust and universal-standards-

          Occupational Simulations • Branded Virtual Worlds •Employer Branding • Message Insight & Development • Talent Acquisition • Orientation • Leadership Development
          J i m W e x l e r , E x e c u t i v e V P, 2 1 2 . 7 8 0 . 0 1 4 0 , x 2 0 3 , i n f o @ b r a n d g a m e s . c o m , w w w . b r a n d g a m e s . c o m   Reprint

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