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The Evolution of Virtual Worlds, Part Four. Branded Virtual Reality

This is the fourth article in our series exploring the evolution of virtual worlds. The first post laid out the foundations of popular virtual worlds moving from 2.5D into 3D environments, what we call VW1.0 and 2.0. Part two explores a key growth area for the virtual worlds sector away from the gaming genre – Social Virtual Reality. Our previous post (part three) explained the power and popularity of ‘building stuff’ in virtual worlds, a concept called User Generated Spaces.

In this post, we move away from sandbox environments and socialising and focus on how companies will leverage virtual worlds to create Branded Virtual Reality experiences.

Brands in Second Life

The idea of brands using virtual worlds is not a new one. From an older demographic perspective many brands have dipped their toes into virtual worlds. This activity was activated primarily by the popularity of Second Life from 2007 – 2009 with over 100 brands launching campaigns. In many cases brands created islands in Second Life and in the vast majority of cases these destinations struggled to generate visitors. Why? Because the residents of Second Life tended to hang-out on the main islands and didn’t want to teleport away from ‘the masses’ and check-out an empty branded island.

l'oreal kitchen_001

We adopted a different approach with our campaign for L’Oreal Paris in Second Life. Instead of creating an island and dragging users from the mainland to an island, instead we partnered with existing retailers of virtual goods with shops on the mainland and asked them to stock the products we created.

These products were virtual goods in the form of ‘skins’ based on real-world cosmetics. We also utlised a popular location in Second Life called the Greenies Kitchen – a supersized room allowing visitors to explore a massively scaled kitchen. Inside the kitchen we placed an enlarged handbag containing photorealistic replicas of L’Oreal products. The virtual ‘skins’ were also distributed when users clicked on the products.

The key point to make here is that brands have to create experiences in virtual worlds that the users actually want to engage with. And, if a brand can provide a virtual world user with a product (i.e. a virtual good) that enhances their experience then all the better. The idea that ‘if you build it they will come’ is not necessarily true.

Existing Branded Virtual Worlds

Shifting to a younger demographic, the kids and tween sectors have adopted virtual worlds in their millions. As shown in the graphic below from the KZero Universe Chart, VWs such as Moshi Monsters, Monkey Quest, Moviestar Planet and Poptropica command significant online audiences.

This is turn has facilitated offline revenue streams in the form of merchandising, movies and other forms of branded entertainment.

kzero universe q2 2014 seg2

The way that branded virtual worlds resonate with this age range presents a interesting opportunity to brand owners when the virtual reality market penetrates this demographic.

Branded Virtual Reality

From an experience perspective, the current state of the virtual reality market is being driven by independent developers, enthusiasts and in a small number of cases, larger studios creating games in liaison with headset manufacturers.

Brands haven’t completely ignored the emerging popularity of virtual reality though. As this presentation shows, some companies and IP’s have already dabbled with VR demos. Expect to see more of these types of applications used for expos, product launches and the like.

But once the number of headset owners starts to ramp-up (from early 2015 onwards) with products such as the Oculus Rift (CV1), Sony Project Morpheus and others coming to market, this will be the catalyst for brands to enter the VR space. Here are some examples of how this will happen….

Gaming Brand Extension

3176836171_5aa0b21e9f_o For some brands, virtual reality fits very nicely into their existing brand values. A great example is Red Bull. Red Bull works hard to extend their brand into categories and experiences outside of their actual product, with Red Bull Racing being a perfect example.

This company already ‘has previous’ in the virtual space with a gaming experience inside Playstation Home and it’s easy to envisage this type of VR application being created. But this isn’t just a gaming opportunity for Red Bull – imagine experiencing a real-life real-time Red Bull race streamed from a stereoscopic 3D camera (from a company such as Jaunt).

Music, Movies and TV

Wider product opportunities are also presented to brands over and above VR gaming. Take the music category for example. Music is already a powerful experience in virtual worlds and becomes even more compelling with virtual reality. Branded VR experiences from musicians and bands would allow fans to get even closer to their favourite artists with concepts such as virtual concerts. So, record labels should examine VR as closely as they currently user social media channels.

Movies and TV is another branded virtual reality opportunity. Re-creating sets and places from iconic movie-sets and TV shows has already proven to be popular in VR. Unofficial (i.e. not endorsed or created by the IP owner) examples of this concept include Jerry’s Place, the bridge from the Starship Enterprise , the ‘Trench Run‘ from Star Wars and the Bat Cave. On an official basis, a Game of Thrones VR experience was also created recently.

Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 14.44.00

Proving this genre is coming our way, recent reports indicate movie companies are already exploring the use of virtual reality in movies. Maybe soon you will be able to be Iron Man.

Character-Driven VR

Younger users of VR headsets (expected to be a part of the market from mid 2015 onwards) are a valuable piece of the future marketplace. Just as we’ve seen branded virtual worlds already prove popular and more recent developments linking on and off line product (Skylanders and Disney Infinity), we should expect VR environments driven by stories and characters.

These types of experiences will allow the players to be part of a narrative-led VR world, immersed alongside their favourite characters and stories. This could be part exploratory, allowing the players to roam around their favourite worlds as well as have RPG-elements enabling them to quest and play as these characters.

In Summary

Being placed inside a virtual reality environment on your own is compelling but when you’re sharing this ‘virtual space’ with others it becomes a completely different experience.

As the virtual reality market gathers pace, the essence and attributes associated with virtual worlds will be a key driver for adoption and this take-up will take place in several different areas.

Social Virtual Reality – interacting with your friends in a social setting is an area Facebook will be looking to exploit. User Generated Spaces – being able to build your own worlds and explore them with friends is another sweetspot. And not to left behind, as we’ve indicated in this article, Brands and IP owners will also want to leverage the presence of virtual reality. Exciting times!

Further information:

Music videos in virtual worlds

You know you have a really engaging virtual world when users start creating content within it – if it’s allowed that is. Obviously for K&T VW’s giving users the ability to create content can lead to moderation (etc) issues, but for older teen worlds it’s a great idea. It’s also a profitable one as IMVU’s recent performance clearly demonstrates.

On that note, here’s a selection of machinima showing users re-creating music videos inside virtual worlds. Hat’s off to these guys as it’s a time-consuming exercise but perhaps these types of environments are breeding grounds for the movie directors of tomorrow.

Furthermore, we’re now seeing an emerging trend of real world artists using virtual environments as creative platforms.

Also expect to see a greater degree of involvement between artists and fans in the future. Sure, following someone on Facebook on Twitter provides a tertiary level of engagement but understanding and then leveraging these relations from virtual worlds brings both stakeholders much closer together.

Our case study, The Five Rules of Virtual Brand Management provides a strategic framework for real world brands and entities to maximise these opportunities.

Continue reading →

Updated Radar charts for Q1 2010

Here we go folks, our updated Radar charts for Q1 2010. On an overall basis we’re seeing a shift from ‘Chasing the Penguin’ and now we’re seeing efforts in the following areas:

1. Learning and education. Expect a growing number of virtual worlds entering the marketplace focusing on various elements of learning, education and self-development. These are focused around the eight to 12 year old segment.

2. Real-world IP: We’ve discussed this particular segment in length for a long time. This relates to existing popular brands creating virtual worlds to accompany movies, toys, TV and other IP-led properties.

Here’s the first segment (Education/Learning, Fashion/Lifestyle and Music). The full report can be ordered here.

kzero radar q12010 seg3

KZero services:

Strategy

Business Planning

Marketing/Media

Product Development

2010+ VW growth areas Part Two: Music

ftrAn extract from the KZero report, Virtual Worlds 2010:

The music category has been quick to move into virtual space already, with MTV leading the pack with its suite of micro- worlds, themed towards specific content. We anticipate this trend to continue through 2010 and beyond.

Music appears to be a binding force in virtual environments, mainly in the younger demographics and particularly tweens and teens. At this age, they already have an appreciation of music (and a growing affinity towards specific genres and artists).

We see the following areas driving growth for music in virtual worlds.

  • More IP-led platforms: By this we mean specific TV shows and music-based companies creating their own worlds, in order to support offline activities and ‘hand-hold’ audiences for longer periods.
  • Musical virtual goods: iTunes has proved the strength of micro-transactions and music. It’s no surprise that we expect songs as well as music-related virtual goods being aggressively pushed into the space, either into existing worlds or into new worlds.
  • Event simulcasting: Already a tried and tested mechanic, the concept of simulcasting – broadcasting real-time events such as concerts and music shows directly into virtual worlds, is expected to grow further into 2010. This type of promotion allows world owners (and the accompanying third-parties) to charge for access/viewing, using the content as the value. Habbo has already delved into this category and is actively involved with music – their latest foray being the European Music Awards.
  • Virtual Artists: Not so much a 2010 prediction, but certainly a little further down the road we expect a brand type category to arise – the virtual celebrity, or more specifically, the virtual artist. In this scenario, we’re seeing new virtual concepts coming to market allowing users to create their own music. On this basis, extrapolating the feature, we don’t think it will be too long before younger users actually become  ‘virtually famous’ for their musical creations. Watch this space. Continue reading →

Franktown Rocks with 100k beta accounts

Music-themed virtual world Franktown Rocks (incidentally my kids favourite virtual world) has come out of beta with 100k registered accounts.

Here’s the press release:

Nashville-based Brainwave Studios has announced a successful completion of the beta phase for their music-based virtual world for kids: Franktown Rocks (franktownrocks.com).

According to Brainwave President, Rob Solberg, the website has garnered over 100k registered accounts over the last few months of live beta testing.

Continue reading →

IMVU goes musical

Not content with having the worlds largest set of virtual items, IMVU has decided to up the ante and introduce a social music aspect to their virtual world.

I’ve been a big fan of IMVU (and their business model) for quite a while and encouragingly the company is introducing this new service to build on theirstrong position in the market place.

Here’s the press release and some imagery.

Continue reading →

The interactive virtual music video

The Radiohead song ?¢‚ǨÀúHouse of Cards directed by James Frost is rather interesting. Basically, in an image driven entirely by data, you’re able to watch a digital head sing the song and actually interact with the singer by changing the perspective. That’s a pretty bad explanation, so Dizzy Banjo has a more accurate one and of course a link to the video, here.

Continue reading →

The Rick Astley effect

I caught wind of the Rickrolling event at Liverpool Street station about 30 mins too late yesterday unfortunately. And it’s only right to give a little coverage to Rickrolling in the UK, seeing as he’s from over here – even though the US seems to have riden the Rick longer that us.

Take a look at the Technorati graph below. Nothing to do with virtual worlds but interesting in a silly way.

English posts that contain Rick Astley per day for the last 90 days.
Technorati Chart
Get your own chart!

Natasha Bedingfield ‘Unpluggs’ into Habbo

Music works well in virtual worlds.

It sets a tone for virtual spaces by creating an ambience and also provides the focal point of activity. The K Zero post ‘The Significance of Music in Second Life‘ delves into this topic.

In terms of real world musicians taking their music virtually and having virtual spaces dedicated to music, there’s been a few examples to date, spanning several genres and indeed virtual worlds, vMTV being the most obviously tailored world alongside vSide. Bands and artists have got in on the act as well with Journey, The Beastie Boys, Duran Duran and others experimenting with this new platform. Even 50 Cent has dived in. Linkin Park have also worked with AOL to stream concert footage into SL.

The latest on the playlist is Natasha Bedingfield in Habbo. She’s scheduled to perform a live concert and interview with fans and will be making her own virtual world debut during this ground-breaking “unplugged” performance with her acoustic guitarist. The singer-songwriter will visit and perform in the Star Lounge on Thursday, April 10 at 3 p.m. (PDT)/6 p.m. (EDT).

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Bigger picture – I won’t be long before virtual ticket sales to events such as this create brand new revenue streams and VERY large audiences.

Side thought – surely we’re in little virtual worlds of our own everytime we put our headphones on.

I make a Journey, you make a Journey

We make a Journey together.

US rock group Journey are developing an island in SL, to be launched Feb 1. The launch party will have members of the band showing up for a meet and greet.

journey_001.jpg

That’s about with this one. The island itself is a little chaotic – images below, but hey, you can get your hands on a T-shirt. One thing that did strike me as a little OTT was the notecard – seems a little on the stern side, as follows:

Continue reading →