V-Business Expo Day 1

Currently in Forterra’s Olive Platform listening to Steve Prentice speak on virtual worlds. Here is the agenda. I will be keynoting this event tomorrow and talking about the 3Di web singularity.

Here is my real-time capture of Steve’s insights:

Virtual worlds are all about people not technology. Function is as an environment for people to interact. Basic premise underpinning is presence in concurrent space. If it is about interaction, is Myspace or Facebook a virtual world in its own right even without Vivaty. Are MMORPGs virtual worlds? Presence based interaction would say yes even though they are more deterministic than virtual worlds.

The real truth on the future of virtual worlds is very hard to predict. But his famous 80% quote was to wake up CIOs to the reality. 300M registered users in virtual worlds according to KZero.

Huge gulf between registrants is huge. So counting registrations is easy but not accurate. On average ratio is 12:1 in terms of registrants to users. For instance, Habbo is 90M registrants to 9M active users for instance. So a good rule of thumb to use. Some indications suggest for younger demographics have higher ratios.

But HOW MANY users don’t matter. More important to know WHO the users are. VWs are dominated by kind and tweens from a population perspective. However, adult residents of VWs are passionate about environments. Research shows that it is the older users (30+) that are most dedicated even though they are a smaller population. Lots of plugs for KZero’s anaysis. Encourages us all to take a look at the most recent analysis.

Virtual worlds are all about people, but this industry is being driven by engineers so the predictable pattern of functionality explosion and interface confusion. Technologists see things as physical problems when VWs are really about people. Therein lies a disconnect. User interfaces are a HUGE issue. Keep it simple. If you notice the interface it is already getting in the way.

Community and Socialization needs to come before creation. People like talking to people they have things in common. Community built around Love, Belonging and Self Esteem (Maslow). Contrasts going to Barbie Venue versus SecondLife. Secret of vibrant active virtual world community is about community not creativity, people not physics.

SecondLife saw huge growth early on. It is not a failure, but not as successful as some that focus on people. Carefully targeted or linked to toys. Look at IMVU, Habbo, closing in on 100M downloads. They relentlessly deliver against the needs of their segment. SL tries to target everybody…but everybody is not a segment.

We need to provide ability to personalize and customize. But just like you go to IKEA to buy your furniture instead of building yourself, this should happen in VWs. Societal pressure conspire adults to do things required to do rather than having fun. Kids are easier to target. Kids/tween worlds have strong aspects of gaming and social/reputational capital. Habbo is 2.5D but gets 10M unique users. High end features are not essential to success. Virtual worlds are about people and interactions.

How about Virtual Worlds in the Enterprise. Increasingly he talks about intersection of Technology, Business and Society. Notion of Co-Evolution. Business and Societal landscape. Ref to 1962 Arthur C. Clarke’s laws. Democratization of IT challenging the very fabric of how enterprise IT works. Users are increasingly changing the rules for Enterprise IT leaders. Rise of global communities that have broken free from the constraints of geography.

Why did initial enterprise foray into virtual worlds fail? Not understanding demographics and not understanding community. Enterprises got caught up in hype. End result was as predictable as it was disappointing. Few successes were focused on internal deployment rather than customer oriented. Educational Sector, virtual worlds have progressed quite well. Lot of universities are engaging with students around virtual environments. Broadcast media has also had some success.

Opportunity to engage with audience and control brand experience is attractive. Know your segment and build affordances around the community they want. Add the immersion of Virtual worlds and you have a place where people feel they belong. VWs are 21st century equivalent of Fanzines. TV program will become the trailer/advertisement for the Virtual World community build around it.

Training is the one place where promise has been met but it does leverage creative component. Virtual reality as tool for simulation and scenarios is a historical artifact here. Can do deterministic (simulations) and non-deterministic (social interaction) scenarios. Vastpark, Wonderland etc allow the technically savvy to create a controlled and customized environment. We are also seeing RRR and Sheep getting into this work. Scenario based role playing is a key area where Virtual Worlds have significant advantage. Training is always the first application he recommends. Role based scenario is key. ESA says 70% of major employers leverage games/virtual worlds for learning and half are role based.

Gaming is huge…average age is in late 20s. Most business audiences have serious WOW players. Maybe time for them to come out of the closet. If you are a good trader on EVE online you are probably a pretty good trader in the real world too. If you are a Guild Leader you could be a world class project manager. Maybe all the long hours at MMORPG keyboard can help you in your career.
Steve referenced our IBM GIO on online gaming research, he says…”Read it, digest it and leave it out for your boss to see.”

Beyond training there are also Meetings, Bloody Meetings. We can effectively use VWs for this. But we need to be careful. Sometimes Webex and Webcam is all you need. Sometimes you need Telepresence, but VWs fit into the face to face sense of belonging required for meetings. Immersive Work Space from Rivers Run Red. Wonderland may be strong in the enterprise next year. We will see more of the collaborative benefits of Virtual Worlds due to fuel prices. So first focus on TRAINING, then INTERNAL COLLABORATION. But beware on collaboration, do not get too carried away. Remember to keep it simple. They are but one tool.

Next stage for organizations will be about resolving social elements of work as we are no longer physically co-located. Virtual worlds are good for cementing and strengthening the social fabric and the culture of the organization. These trivial conversations are important. Virtual worlds can play an important role as a virtual water cooler. But ROI is hard.

What about external deployment. It will take a while. 18 Months or Two Years. Interfaces will have improved and user bases will have become clearer. Some good examples. Retail Shareholder example from a Steel Organization. Chambers from Cisco also hosted a meeting in SL. Opportunity to promote organization directly at the grass roots. Microsoft has made product announcements in SL at 30% of cost. Direct comms and brand building in public virtual worlds will pick up, but it will be a while. Controlled limited deployments with specific audiences and community/collaboration agendas.

Average dwell times in virtual worlds is about 15 minutes. This is very attractive for marketeers. Here is where Lively comes in. Maintain and build a community around a brand is going to be a key play. RRR and others are seeing this.

What about the future. Technology is advancing. Visual fidelity and gestural computing are on the way. Combine with multitouch and broad adoption of accelerometer. Much more intuitive control interface. Forget the mouse, forget the interface. These things will trickle out. If we don’t VWs will be abandoned by the mainstream. MOBILE will be huge. 3B of them as opposed to 1B interfaces. VWs need to build on the Mobile Platform. Not full functionality, but do need to maintain DIGITAL SOCIAL GROOVING. More valuable will be SEAMLESS CONNECTIVITY BETWEEN platforms rather than visual fidelity within 3D platforms. Huge explosion in Mirror Worlds using geospatial data. Virtual Travel before real Travel.

Big challenge is USER INTERFACES, THICK CLIENTS. Browser based interfaces need a middle ground. Interoperability is a key. He does not believe in the overarching Metaverse. People are getting used to maintaining separate digital personai.

Are we nearly there yet? No but people before physics, community before creativity and enterprise focusing internally on employee education and collaboration will be key. Today’s virtual worlds have interfaces that people do not have patience to learn. People don’t want technology they want magic. In the words of Jean Luc Picard…JUST MAKE IT SO.

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