12 October 2006

eGames Promotes Virtual Reality

David Wortley the Director of the Serious Games Institute at Coventry University (www.coventry.ac.uk/newthinking/html/serious.htm) and Gavin Dudeney (pictured) of The Consultants-E (www.theconsultants-e.com) will deliver a Second Life workshop at the forthcoming eGames conference.

What is Second Life (SL)? Created by San Francisco-based Linden Lab, SL is a virtual world and role playing environment that is completely owned by its participants. In this alternate world, personalized avatars, representing each player, interact to find and create entertainment, experiences and opportunity. “SL does pretty much what it says on the package: players control their virtual alter egos - avatars - to live an alternative life. It offers hundreds of activities, from the mundane to the strange: you can make friends, travel, attend a pop concert or visit vampire castles,” said Mohammed Al Maskari, Director General, Knowledge Oasis Muscat and organizer of eGames.

When asked about the SL trend, David Wortley said: "Second Life is moving up the list of places digital marketers want to be. Not only do these worlds give all brands the chance to connect with their constituents within a social construct, they also represent platforms where brands can enable players of the games with services, products and experiences. SL is growing by 22 per cent each month and if this continues there will be 3.6 million Second Lifers by July 2007.

According to recent research, the SL audience is made up of young professionals and not teenagers as many people think. This explains why there are about US$5.3 million (over RO2 million) in user transactions over the course of a month in SL. Players can purchase virtual products such as houses, clothing, accessories, game services and pay for them with real dollars via a currency system. SL uses Linden dollars, which players buy with real cash to conduct business with vendors within the game. Once the vendor decides to "cash out," their Linden dollars are converted back to US dollars - after Linden takes its fee.

But people aren't just buying goods - they're also building viable virtual businesses that provide them with real income. In fact, according to Forbes magazine, there are people making six and seven-figure incomes within the SL economy. “Numbers like these make SL difficult for companies, marketers and brands to ignore,” remarked the KOM Director General.

Brands that will be successful in SL are the ones that interact with the game seamlessly and find innovative and imaginative ways of talking to players. "Companies need to make sure they’re offering customers something they want," says Al Maskari. One company that is doing exactly that is the sports manufacturer Adidas. In September, Adidas set up a store in SL, to support the launch of its extra-bouncy A3 Microride trainers. SL residents can buy them for their avatars. Reebok – an Adidas owned company - is launching an SL version of its customisation service: players will be able to design trainers for their avatars and also order real versions for themselves. “Reebok is providing consumers with something that they actually want to experience, not just bombarding them with meaningless marketing messages,” said Al Maskari. But should other brands be considering SL? “I think so, it offers an opportunity to reach an audience that can be difficult to connect with. The folk on SL are totally immersed in the environment, so they don't really interact with magazines, TV or other media," says Al Maskari.

Talking about where SL is leading us, Maskari said: “I would think that before 2015 - just nine years away - VR technology will give us fully realistic experiences for all practical purposes. Then there will be fully immersive VR with direct stimulation of the brain: real virtuality as good as the physical universe, while, of course, retaining the possibility to allow users to do things which would be impossible in physical reality, for example, flying over Jebel Akhdar like a bird or walking on the Moon without a spacesuit.”

“Isn’t it marvellous that this type of event and discussion is taking place in Muscat? Knowledge Oasis Muscat really is putting Oman on the global digital map,” Al Maskari said proudly.

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