More than Second Life: Virtual Worlds Provide Choices, Challenges

Part 2 in a series of 3.  (Read Part 1 | Part 3 )

In addition to the popular Second Life (SL), how many of these virtual worlds exist? Gobs, and it’s getting more gobby every day. The folks over at have a chart that describes a number of the more well-known virtual worlds. Still more can be found on Virtual Worlds Review.

Some are successful in niches like Club Penguin – which Disney has just purchased for $700 million August. Some offer monitization through advertising, eCommerce tools, and natrurally a wide range of term addressing intellectual property protections.

For marketers, it’s important to go where your customers are and where you can interact with them according to your needs. If you desire to sell something, then the virtual world had better provide transaction tools, either as part of their platform or as third-party options. If you’re doing a brand-building exercise, then it’s important to know how to import and customize your marketing materials and gauge their appropriateness for the venue (not to mention how you’re going to measure the effort).

Virtual Worlds are also differentiated by their Terms of Service. This holds true for what is permitted and whether the virtual world even recognizes intellectual property like trademarks. However, paying lip service to trademark infringement or the DMCA in Terms of Service, is an entirely different from actually enforcing them. More on that later in the series.

Virtual Worlds for Any Demographic
For companies that want to appeal to children, there are certainly many choices, such as Club Penguin, Cyworld, and Habbo Hotel, which are designed for teens and pre-teens. Other worlds such as Second Life, There, and Entropia Universe are for general audiences.

Speaking of Entropia Universe, Entropia has been described as World of Warcraft meets Second Life. It’s set on an untamed planet where you can play a sword-wielding warrior or a shopkeeper. Like SL, you can own property, make and sell things, and it has in-world currency (called PED) which you can buy and cash-out back into real money. Unlike SL, the currency exchange rate with US dollars is fixed at $1US = 10 PED (SL’s Linden dollars fluctuate and are about $1US to 270L$ — much lower than the 185 I bought last year).

Entropia Universe approaches eCommerce more directly than Second Life. MasterCard provides an in-world ATM cash card that acts like a bridge from Entropia Universe to their real world bank accounts. Slick. An interesting fact is that Entropia Universe licenses banks to operate in-world. This is an eCommerce place to watch.

Unfortunately, the client application is about 1 GB in size, and takes HOURS TO DOWNLOAD. As has been suggested, Bit Torrent would be a good idea. Hey, the barrier to entry is for competitors, guys, not customers. For more information on Entropia Universe, I suggest’s article here.

Multiverse is worth mentioning because it is a virtual world platform. In other words, with the software, you can set-up your own world and do with it what you like. You could create a general Second Life type of world with Multiverse, or one focused on a specific purpose. They have a universal client that allows you to move from one world to another, much the same way you have a browser that allows you to go from one webpage to another, no matter how very different the webpages are.

In the future, this may prove a very useful technology with organizations setting up their own virtual world for their own objectives – either for internal use or for customer-facing activities. It is certainly something Big Blue has been looking into.

Second Life Feels the Weight of Popularity
For now, Second Life (SL) by Linden Lab is the 800 pound gorilla in terms of popularity and general appeal. SL allows for eCommerce through third-party tools and a great deal of latitude in many areas, much to its credit.

Common criticisms iof Second Life include occasional system lag and less-than-stellar graphics. I can attest to system lag; it can be very annoying. But, it is not frequent, and largely depends upon where you are and your broadband connection speed. As for graphics quality, well that’s a matter of opinion. For example, Entropia may have more realistic graphics, but as a 1 GB download, it should also contain every hair on every avatar’s head, every blade of grass individually sculpted, and it would still have enough memory left over for several encyclopedias being recited by an infinite number of angels on the heads of a million pins. Second Life’s download is about 33 MB for Windows and 70 MB for Mac OS-X.

Improvements to Second Life, however, are happening all the time, with upgrades to the client application as well as server technology (SL is testing the Havok4 physics engine as a beta right now – that’s the server code that’s responsible for modeling how things behave in a physical world). I’ve even heard talk of SL’s in-world scripting language (Linden Scripting Language) being replaced with an open source version of C# called Mono. These are important and strategic decisions being taken to increase SL’s appeal for residents and those who provide goods and services to them (read: developers). Of course, two real world phenomena could threaten SL’s dominance.

Second Life Congestion
Ever try to find parking downtown? Enjoy fighting with everybody and their brother just to do a little shopping and go to a restaurant? That’s why the suburbs were built. Less people, newer infrastructure. Congestion as a consequence of its appeal will be a constant problem for SL to overcome or at least keep at bay. I believe the abovementioned upgrades do begin to address this issue. Besides, I did say you need to go where your customers are, and many will be here.

Making Second Life Ready for Business
Personally, I have concerns over SL’s current legal climate. Recently, a lawsuit was filed involving theft of intellectual property in Second Life. The accusers went through the proper channels, escalating the issue from contacting the transgressor to contacting Linden Lab, relying upon SL’s Terms of Service (ToS) to inform Linden Lab of the theft. Apparently, Linden Lab did not respond. Despite verbiage in the ToS, it appears no action was ever taken to prevent the continuing theft and subsequent re-selling of the stolen intellectual property.

Not providing a mechanism for dispute resolution, or just ignoring it, is simply bad business. It also sets a bad precedent. This and similar issues must be addressed before SL will be considered ‘safe enough’ for real world commerce players. A discussion of legal issues in virtual worlds will follow later in this series. Suffice it to say, a form of law provides the fabric that allows for safe and dependable commerce in any dimension.

SL has clearly captured the public’s imagination with the idea of a virtual world – as demonstrated by that CSI episode last week which now has a corresponding in-world representation. Second Life is currently the best known virtual world – a vanguard — and over time others will learn from its mistakes and build better, more robust worlds. All virtual worlds are incubators, and they’re evolving – quickly.

Next time we’ll discuss what sort of business is being done in virtual worlds, and where you can possibly fit in.

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