Virtual World Reality Check

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When was the last time you were in Second Life? It has been a while since Mitch Till (my Second Life Avatar) has added any value to the online virtual world community. It doesn’t mean I don’t think about online virtual worlds or the tectonic shifts I think it will bring to the online world, I’ve just been beaten down by a highly powerful Sony Vaio laptop that still seems to grapple with a strong Second Life connection. This tells me one thing: that we’re not there yet with virtual worlds – in terms of mass acceptance and usage – but that should not stop any Marketer from understanding the huge opportunities that lie ahead in Second Life (and other online virtual worlds). The technology (and speed) will get better and this type of online experience will supplant current two-dimensional text/images browsing. It has to.

I had a keen slap in the face wake up call to the power of online virtual worlds on a flight today. I picked up the September 2007 issue of Report On Business Magazine and read with with excitement the column by Doug Steiner, who works in the financial services industry in Toronto. His editorial piece (on page 30) was called, This, Too, Is Reality – So what is the difference between online virtual worlds and "real" electronic markets.

"…then I asked myself: What do I do at work? I build and deploy electronic trading systems for investors whom I’ve never met, to move money they don’t touch into stocks they only view as an accounting entry. I’m building virtual worlds in which investors can interact… In a very real sense, for many of us, money is becoming a largely abstract concept. It’s no longer gold and silver, or even paper notes that represent precious metals. A vast amount of the money in the world today consists of electronic book-keeping entries that people flip back and forth. And they’ll accept these digits as payment for goods and services."

I’ve never thought of it that way, and it does make a strong case for online virtual worlds and what the opportunities that lie ahead. My guess is you’ll now have second thoughts about Second Life. In a way, is buying a virtual couch for your kid’s Habbo Hotel room any different than paying off that leather couch in your den – especially if they both provide some level of comfort?

Finally, let me leave you with another thought that Steiner brings forward on why Virtual Worlds are (and will be) more important as time rolls on:

"The scary and intriguing thing is, the financial markets I work in are amateur hour compared to the expanding virtual worlds many mere 15-year-olds now ‘live in’ online. I’m at the leading edge of online investing, yet it’s already looking ragged and obsolete."

Maybe we should get those IT and Marketing departments working a little more closely.

When I think about how real world money is, virtually, virtual… it makes my brain melt.


  1. A dangerous thought, because it will eventually lead you to a long discussion about fiat currency and how much it is or is not worth. Start here.
    When currency becomes abstract, it means that the folks who run it can do dangerous, risky things to it that greatly devalue it. That’s why the American dollar has fallen so far against the loony – the US government is doing some very unwise things to its currency – hyperinflating it to try to stave off recession in the short term at the expense of the long term economic health of the nation.
    Perhaps we should ask the economists who run the Second Life economy and managed to stabilize its currency to fly out to Washington, DC, and try their hand at a different virtual world.
    Of course, the only difference between deflating a virtual economy and a real one is that avatars don’t starve to death when they run out of money.

  2. Very pithy article, Mitch.
    At my last company, which developed a majority dependency on interactive marketing, the entire Marketing Department (which I lead) was in the IT Department. My direct report was the CIO. The funny thing is – this was 5 years ago. It worked amazingly well, and as an integrated marketer, I cannot tell you how incredibly well supported I felt. We combined out talents to create cutting edge interactive features and tracking mechanisms that blew the minds of the C level execs. I would highly recommend it for any company.

  3. Hey Mitch. I’ve dabbled in Second Life, but grew a little impatient during the long learning curve. It’s also a matter of my finding the time between all of my social networking and RL to visit the virtual world.
    I’ve included a link to a video we created at Emma for a Marketing Profs Virtual conference earlier this summer. I hope you get a kick out of it.


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