Importance of Place in Virtual Worlds

I’m a firm believer that spatial immersion can occur in even primitive virtual worlds. And I’ve argued (reLink) that what’s available now – technologically speaking – is more than adequate. That said, I find it somewhat odd that people map real world limitations so completely on virtual worlds. Such was my bewilderment while reading some of the recent crop of blog entries on branding inside virtual worlds, that on the Business and Games Blog, which posted an entry called “Brand Traffic in Second Life” (Link), I’ve struck up a conversation with Alain Thys regarding a key aspect of this transference.

The question I raise has to do with the need for virtual store fronts; the kind which have been popping up on a number of controllable but isolated corporate “islands”. I’ll pick up from my most recent comment and let you read the full conversation over there.

To be able to have these conversations, the people however need to be “present” [at company-controlled virtual buildings] in the first place => my statement.

I disagree.

What exactly *is* the “conversation”?

If the “conversation” is actually engaging with consumers, that can occur anywhere. And considering most of these virtual stores are devoid of adequate corporate representation… from my experience… that’s probably not a bad thing.

If it’s communicating the qualities of the brand, which I believe is what we’re actually discussing, that too can occur anywhere.

For example, if a newspaper is distributed at a vending machine, does it stand to reason that the “conversation” is on the street corner where the vending machine is located? No. The vending machine is a distribution center, nothing more. The interaction with the product/brand occurs wherever the product is engaged (at the point of distribution, but often to a greater degree elsewhere… the bulk of the Experience).

Now take this a step further.

If someone gets on the bus with a paper from the vending machine and hands a section to someone else on the bus who never stops by a vending machine, doesn’t this other person also have a “conversation” with the brand? Of course they do.

The issue is whether or not these other people are *counted*. That’s not having a conversation with the consumer, that’s determining the metrics for use in another conversation; one revolving around business.

Of course that kind of pseudo-replication of product (sub-dividing a newspaper into usable chunks) doesn’t apply to Pontiac’s and Nissan’s. Not in the REAL world, that is. But in the virtual world, where anything can be perfectly replicated and distributed among users like a virus, then “place” becomes irrelevant.

When I first modeled the Black & Decker jar opener I designed in RL, my intention when I contacted my former employer wasn’t to open a store. My intention was for the “conversation” to occur wherever the product spread. Why on earth would I not prefer this method? After all, just like any computer virus, each replicated object can feed me with all the metrics I need (and better one’s than just who showed up on a virtual plot of land).

Y’know, I don’t believe the marketing community fully comprehends what’s possible. Then again, maybe that’s just as well.

{Occurs to me that the approach I’m describing could effectively be a kind of “virtual consumer encounter” where the product itself is the company representative observing product use (Link – to PDF explaining the method). This loops back to “smart” appliances and things like those Blackberry-like stellayans I’ve discussed a couple of times (reLink). Cathy and Brian would be proud. I think.}