Published on August 20, 2015
1. 1 Assignment 5: Virtual Worlds Prepared by Bonnie Elaine Mager ID: 5662832 [email protected] In fulfilment of Diploma in Social Media Marketing This paper is referenced using the Harvard referencing style.
2. 2 Introduction Virtual worlds have changed in shape and form since they were first created in 1979 as text-based worlds (Sanchez 2009). There are many different types of virtual worlds, each with its own unique features and user bases with worlds aimed specifically for children, teens, and adults alike. Virtual worlds can be classified as online virtual environments where people can interact with each other and the environment in an immersive way (Schroeder 2008). More specifically, Book 2004 identifies all virtual worlds as sharing the following six characteristics; 1. Shared Space: Multiple users can interact with the world at once. 2. Graphical User Interface: The virtual world is an immersive graphical area be it in 2D or 3D. 3. Immediacy: interaction between players and the world occurs in real time. 4. Interactivity: players within the world are able to customise content, items, and their appearance. 5. Persistence: The world continues to grow, move forward and exist irrespective of whether players are logged in or not. 6. Socialization/Community: Within the virtual world, communities are easily formed by players. Virtual Worlds can be broken down into two types. Social virtual worlds, which focus on player interaction with no real element of gameplay, or game-based virtual worlds where the virtual worlds are established more as interactive online games. The most popular game based virtual worlds are known as MMORPGS (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) (Sanchez 2009). Some popular virtual worlds at present include: Club Penguin With over 150 Million accounts, Club Penguin is a virtual world aimed at children. The Club Penguin world is an educational, gaming and social virtual world most popular with kids aged 8-10 (Sinderman 2011) and is run by Disney Digital.
3. 3 Figure 1: Screenshot of Club Penguin Virtual World Habbo Aimed at 13-18 year olds, Habbo (formally known as Habbo Hotel) is a virtual world where users create avatars, and use these to explore public rooms, private rooms and create their own rooms within a virtual hotel (Lunden 2014). Users are able to purchase furniture (known as “furni”) to decorate their rooms, which are often used as places for online social gatherings. Figure 2: Screenshot of Habbo Virtual World Second Life Second Life is one of the largest virtual worlds in the world with around 900,000 users. Like other virtual worlds, users have the opportunity to create a personal avatar and interact with other Second
4. 4 Life avatars using keyboard or microphone communication. Second Life is also an online marketplace, where businesses and users alike create retail spaces to sell in-game goods such as clothing for avatars. Premium or “pay” second life accounts also have the added ability to purchase private property or land, and to filter which avatars in the world have access to these areas. Figure 3: Screenshot of Second Life Virtual World Gaia Online Gaia Online is a virtual world consisting of a series of forums as the main way users interact with each other. Over 1 million posts are made on the forums each day by 23 million users (Mashable 2011). Users create custom avatars and receive gold by browsing the website, posting in forums, and exploring the virtual towns. Each month, users can purchase mystery items to get rare monthly collectables to decorate their avatar – which are much prized possessions. Figure 4: Screenshot of a Gaia Virtual World
5. 5 This report is going to analyse three different companies, and how they have made use of virtual worlds as a part of an effective marketing strategy. Case Study 1 - Product Promotion Product Promotion within virtual worlds is one of the main ways companies market within these unique social networks. Hundreds of examples can be drawn to highlight successes such as; Adidas, L'Oreal, Dell, Coca-Cola and many more. This report is going to focus on one of the more unique, and humorous uses of this immersive product promotion strategy. Name of Company WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) Category of Business Entertainment Company What Virtual World are they using? Gaia Online How have they implemented a strategy involving virtual worlds into their business model? In 2008, the WWE were looking for new ways to promote their SummerSlam product – A yearly pay-per-view wrestling event. In order to promote SummerSlam, they invested in a time intensive yet effective virtual world promotion. WWE wrestler John Cena suddenly appeared in the Gaia Online world, with a unique and distinguishable avatar (Figure 5) and interacted with the community by answering questions and participating in forum topics (Mehta 2010). Figure 5: Screenshot of Gaia Online advertisement of John Cena’s Avatar (Mehta 2010)
6. 6 After three days of interacting with Gaia Online members and promoting the SummerSlam, a second avatar named simply as “RKO” appeared. RKO (who in the end was revealed to be wrestling bad guy Randy Orton) made a huge splash in the water, threatening to beat up John Cena, and the Gaia Online moderators (Edery & Mollick 2008). Users began to get involved in the wrestling style sub-plot, and were invited to “join sides” which each side receiving a unique Gaia Online item dependant on what side they chose. WWE is widely known to use pay TV in its business model as a means to obtaining more subscribers. The use of a free virtual world fits nicely within this model, as it is also a free entertainment medium. By expanding to a virtual world, the company has been able to grow its business model, making it interactive and appealing to a broader range of customers. The appeal of this promotion was that you could be involved without having to pay any money, much like its advertisement on open access television. How is this benefiting the organisation? By the end of the campaign, over 20,000 Gaia users had been involved. This correlated directly with the sales of 2008 SummerSlam subscriptions, as the company saw a large increase in the ratings (Edery & Mollick 2008). The promotion was widely praised, and it even won a few awards (Mehta 2010). This sort of online promotion benefits the WWE as it was a free way to advertise, and gain promotion for its pay-per-view events. The effect was long lasting with the items rewarded to users for picking sides coming rare and desirable within the Gaia Online world. Case Study 2 – Recruitment Name of Company : IBM Deutschland Entwicklung GmbH (IBM Research and Development Germany) Category of Business: IBM Germany is a subsidiary branch of IBM. It employs over 21,000 people, throughout 40 branches across Germany (Laumer et al 2008). IBM is a computer hardware and software solutions company.
7. 7 What Virtual World are they using? Second Life How have they implemented a strategy involving virtual worlds into their business model? IBM prides itself in being innovative, and at the forefront of current technological trends. In order to attract candidates at the top of their fields, in 2007 IBM, including IBM Germany, began running online recruitment for its business within Second Life. Interactive jobseeker boards, along with large recruitment centres, were placed around the world in order to catch the eye and enagage active second life users (Figure 6) (Zappe 2007). Figure 6: A screenshot of an IBM Recruitment board (Alonmar 2014) As well as this passive recruitment, IBM Germany also held recruitments days on their Second Life Island. These recruitment sessions gave potential employees and employers an opportunity to interact using their Second Life avatars in a modern way. With the addition of private rooms within this island, employers could take potential employees to private rooms to discuss more formal and sensitive matters (Laumer et al 2008). These virtual world recruitment conferences offered a way to interact in a more realistic and personal fashion (rather than emails or phone calls) without the large expense of running a face-to-face recruitment event. After this recruitment day, potential employees who were still interested in a position within IBM Germany were then directed to the website to fill out a traditional online job application form.
8. 8 The IBM Business model states that they must obtain the “optimum sourcing of products, services, and people... be diverse with a global presence while also being adaptive and collaborative” and that “ being able to deploy the best talent and most suitable resources wherever they are required demands workforce flexibility“ (IBM 2015). By using virtual worlds, IBM was applying the best technological fads and methods of the time to ensure it was reaching diverse candidates from all over the world, who were at the forefront of current technology trends. How is this benefiting the organisation? The number of avatars that visited the IBM recruitment centre between April – November 2007 was 5,700 (Laumer et al 2008). With nearly 6,000 potential employees, IBM was reaching out to a large audience. After attending the recruitment speeches and events, 10% of all attendees then visited IBM website to find out more about the position they were interested in, or to apply for a job (Laumer et al 2008). The response from the potential employees who attended the events reported overwhelmingly positive feedback about the experience. Participants stated that they enjoyed the personal interaction of the event and the ability to ask detailed questions to current employees about the workplace, and the roles being offered, and that these factors made them more interested in the job positions (Laumner et al 2008). The process is also saved IBM money. A similar second life conference run by IBM in October 2008 saved the company an estimated $350,000 (Morrison 2009). Case Study 3 - Education and Training Name of Company: Loyalist College Category of Business: College (tertiary education supplier) What Virtual World are they using? Second Life
9. 9 How have they implemented a strategy involving virtual worlds into their business model? Loyalist College runs a Justice Studies course for students who wish to work in customs. Prior to 9/11, a vital part of this course was observations and placements at a series of border control and airport security agencies. However, with new law changes after the terror attack, this element of the course was suspended, leaving a gap in the curriculum (Contact North). After a series of alternate training methods proved to be ineffective, the College began to investigate virtual worlds, and the world they chose was Second Life. Within second life the college created a customs port (Figure 7) and students were given the opportunity to be border patrol agents within this port using their second life avatars (Contact North). Figure 7: A Screenshot of the border port created by Loyalist College in Second Life The virtual customs port exposed students to a realistic experience of what occurs at border crossings. Other students posed as “travellers” and within the Second Life parameters were able to create unique and variable avatars to represent a series of border scenarios created by the College (Waugh 2009). The ability to customise each avatar made the experience more immersive and realistic for the students interviewing the travellers. Students took turns being the border patrol officer, and communicated with the travellers avatars via microphone during class time.
10. 10 As an educational institute, rather than a business, Loyalist College does not have a public business model, but rather, institute goals which are “to offer a comprehensive range of career-oriented education and training opportunities to support and enhance the economic and social development of individuals and our communities” (Loyalist College 2015). By using virtual worlds as an educational tool, Loyalist College has ensured that their students still receive a relevant, hands on and extensive training course that was not made less appealing or effective after the change or border regulations in the area. Experience in the virtual world was commented on by students and border patrol guards alike as being as real, and as intimating as experiencing the situation first hand (Waugh 2009) By doing this Loyalist College have ensured that their students still obtain high quality skills needed to succeed in the border agency job sector. How is this benefiting the organisation? The integration of a virtual world into the Justice Studies curriculum has meant that Loyalist College has been able to maintain the training standard of its institute. People within virtual worlds are proven to adapt quickly to the assigned roles, and the experience they gain from these events is proven to transition into real life experience (Contact North). Student grades were proven to benefit from the virtual world inclusion in the curriculum. In the first year of its implementation students averaged 28% higher in grades that the previous year, who did not do a virtual world simulation nor attend real life observations (Contact North). By the second year of this programme, this had increased by a further 9%. Being thrust into a real-life simulation, as well as being able to have other students observe their tasks, students were able to adapt a wider range of lateral thinking skills than if the problems were presented on paper (Contact North). The virtual world also allowed students to work on observation skills – what does the traveller look like, their attire, mannerisms, age and ethnicity, which would not have been observable in the theory questions (Contact North).
11. 11 Not only was the benefit to students apparent in their grades, but also in their job performance. Students who completed the Second Life practicums within the course had a higher job performance once in the field (Waugh 2009). This is a great success for an educational institute as industry recognition means businesses are more likely to recruit from that institute, thus increasing their role numbers and tuition fees. Conclusion Online worlds have the ability to gain product and service exposure to users in a unique and interactive way. By targeting different types of worlds users can reach different demographics that their normal advertising may have missed. Each world has it unique user demographics, which need to be researched before deciding which virtual world to commit to. It is also a cheap and effective way to advertise with participation in many virtual worlds being free. Although Virtual world’s trends have started to slow, the creation of Virtual Reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift and PlayStation’s Project Morpheus mean that a resurgence in the use of Virtual worlds is a very real possibility. Current media trends have shown a re-emergence in the discussion of Virtual Worlds with popular books such as Ready Player One, Solarversia and Lock In featuring predominant Virtual Reality Worlds as major plot lines. With this re-emergence and new enthusiasm of virtual worlds and the possibility of virtual reality adding a while new element to virtual worlds, this is an area of social networking marketing to watch for the future.
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