Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is anybody out there?

I've talked a lot about how advertising is picking up in the world of casual gaming, so I decided I should probably go back to that and start profiling some of these gaming genres, and possibly the kinds of companies that specialize in this type of advertising. Since it was recently brought up in Greg Verdino’s Blog, I thought I’d start today with Second Life. While not technically a ‘game’ in the strictest sense of the word, this on-line world does allow people to build their own avatars and islands and interact with people all over the world, so I’m going to go ahead and say it counts.

According to Wagner James Au on GigaOm, about 400,000 Second Life residents log in on a weekly basis, and about one million log on in your average month. So of course advertisers are getting in on this new and interesting way to reach consumers, right? Well, they’re trying.

Most advertising in Second Life seems to take place in the form of billboards that are as unimpressive as their counterparts in real life. In fact, the most successful advertising efforts seem to be those of SL based causes, rather than real world corporations. Besides billboards, the big thing for companies to do is create their own virtual islands, where they can fully control the marketing experience. The problem then becomes getting people to visit your island. Many companies with a presence in SL fail to attract even 500 visitors a week, making it seem hardly worth the investment.

Wagner offers a few suggestions as to why, in many cases, SL advertising seems not to be working. The first of these is the concept of teleportation. People can instantly teleport from anywhere in the SL world to anywhere else, which can make billboards relatively ineffective. It would seem that there is little that can be done about this issue.

The second problem is the lack of imagination in many of these company’s efforts. With all the possibilities open to them in a virtual world, they seem to often be doing things exactly as they do them in the real world. At least one company, Crayon, is attempting to do something about this. In their recent Virtual Thirst campaign with Coke, they had SL residents get actively involved with the brand by creating the “Essence of Coca-Cola” dispensed by SL vending machines in online videos. This intrigued me, and though I was able to find Coke vending machines scattered around the world (which were not Crayon's doing), I never could figure out if Coke had an island of its own – if it does, I couldn’t find it. But despite my inexperience with SL, it was still an interesting idea.

The third problem with advertising according to Wagner is the lack of people on these virtual islands interacting with visitors. This I can agree with from personal experience. After visiting several corporate islands I found lots of ‘welcome’ areas which were completely deserted. Even Crayon, who claims to be so involved with SL, had a completely deserted island. It was kind of spooky. People want to visit places where there are other people, so it makes sense that if no one is manning the desks in these islands, then no one will want to visit. It seems that if companies really want to make the investment to become a part of second life, they are going to have to put in a little more effort to make it successful.


Greg Verdino said...

Hey Rachel - Great post.

Figured I could clarify a few things for you regarding Coke's Virtual Thirst program. There is no Coke Island - instead, while we were still accepting submissions we repurposed the amphitheatre on crayonville Island as the Coke amphitheatre. In fact, it still carries the Coke branding if you want to check it out - go to crayonville Island and teleport to the amphitheatre by clicking on the Coke promo by our front door. And those Coke machines you see here and there in-world? Not ours. :-) We haven't released the winning entry yet - it is currently in development and all I can say right now is that it's pretty cool and doesn't look anything like a traditional Coke machine at all - or dispense soda cans...

Also, I hear you about crayonville being deserted. It's hard for us, as a 4-person company, to have people on-island all the time - but then again, we're not a consumer brand so we mostly use our island for business events and virtual meetings. If you'd like to come hang with us, we are ALWAYS in-world from 9-9:30 every Thursday morning.

rsteiner said...

Thanks for clarifying... Also, 9:00 am is a little early for me, but it's good to know that the island is inhabited from time to time.