Brands and Transmedia Producers Heads Up! Virtual Worlds Bounce Back into the Zeitgeist

written by: Pooky Amsterdam

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Why watch TV when you can star in your own Cartoon movie every night?

Virtual Worlds are now in the news again as business begins to understand the model which allows for maximum exposure, involvement and immersion for this medium of entertainment.

AdWeek recently noted that, Virtual Worlds are back - with a storm:

On Thursday, the Finnish company Sulake, parent of the popular teen world Habbo Hotel, announced that in 2010 its revenue had surged by 20 percent versus 2009, landing at $78.7 million. The company’s profits netted out at $2.3 million. Habbo, which claims to have members in 150 countries, has continued to prove popular among advertisers going after the teen market, including multiple promotions for the Twilight series of movies.

Interestingly, Habbo has moved away from referring to itself as a virtual world—opting for the labels “social game” and “community.” Rival Gaia seems to have taken this tactic, and both companies have integrated their properties with Facebook.

Meanwhile, the tween-girl aimed Stardoll, an avatar dress-up community, is also demonstrating impressive momentum. The company announced on Thursday that it had surpassed the 100 million member mark. Like Habbo, Stardoll is popular globally, though the site’s biggest audience is in the U.S.—where 23 million or so tweens have elected to create and outfit virtual dolls. Stardoll has also recently inked a pair of licensing partnerships. Mattel, which has advertised Barbie, Fashionistas and Monster High on Stardoll, has agreed to launch a Stardoll-branded product line starting this fall. Along those same lines, J. C. Penney Company has committed to roll out an exclusive Stardoll brand of clothing and accessories this fall in 300 stores.

While Habbo and Gaia have opted for “Social Games” they are also Social Worlds - Connected Networks and avatar based entertainment experiences. A place to “see” your aspirational self, and make friends. Brands going into communities have the benefit of an audience that will gain from direct interaction through their avatars. Habbo has for years had much success with outworld brands. Sunny Delight which was one of the first to buy into Habbo, in 2002, they sponsored a public room and sponsored assets, were very early. The campaigns were deemed a success. Habbo has grown exponentially and now its 200 Million (as of February this year) registered users represent a huge base of teens. This is distributed over a variety of “hotel” franchises throughout the world.

Media is wise to present aspirational opportunity within a virtual world and this includes effective branding with their entertainment product.

What about Virtual Worlds being used as platforms for media? This is something that has been done on Habbo starting in 2003,and throughout the years, plays such as the Habbo version of The Chrimbo Carol and Shakespeare festivals have also been staged.

These represented great opportunities for involvement with literature. Book Club anyone?

Now we can effectively through the use of screen capture and recording also show media which come with specific branding, product placement and advertising opportunities from within Virtual Worlds.

Real – Time animation known also as Machinima means that Virtual Worlds offer incredible opportunity as media itself!

I helm two game shows (The First Question and Dating Casino) and am in development for a few more which can be played live online and in real time- This kind of edge of your seat involvement where YOU are part of the show and part of the media experience is unparallelled outside of call in radio (or TV) or reality game shows where the contestants are heavily vetted. Virtual Worlds offer the possibility for that live online programming to includes the audience. Treet.tv has 15 programs which they broadcast live and people can play right along as the show is aired, either in a chatbox window or through of course logging into the Virtual World itself. There indeed you are part of the show through the live real time interaction.

The rise of game engines for advertisements such as Xtranormal and the use of avatars for commercial enterprise will grow and the use of cost-effective mediums like those which are in Virtual Worlds represent a perfect opportunity for the Media to become part of the Virtual World , where then avatars can become part of the community and the goods and assets which are also virtual can be transferred to those outside the world through interoperable digital applications. For example, I would love an iShoe phone app to have a virtual pair of heels delivered to me each day. Who cares if I can't walk in them? I can't walk in half the shoes I already own.

Second Life, a virtual world has unlimited potential because anything can be created through the use of building and scripting tools, and offers a very rich opportunity for use as a media platform. I have long said , even if you are a Heineken drinker all your life, if you play an online avatar based game called “Bowling for Budweiser” and you enjoy it, you will eventually pick up a Bud. The virtual good that become part of your real life experience merges two things and creates identity with the brand. A Mercedes is aspirational for many, wouldn't you rather own a virtual one, or two than never see one in your garage – whatever its form?  

Pooky Amsterdam is an award winning real-time animation producer using Second Life as a media platform. Visit her website here.


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