Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ypulse Guest Post: Virtual Worlds Expo Recap

I walked away from this conference with one happy realization – people in the industry are starting to get it! But what is "it"? Strategy! Thought! Depth! Meaning! Virtual Worlds are not defined solely by the gaming experience and socialization, but by the entire experience – from the minute a free user pops on the site, to the last second a paying member cancels their subscription (pray that day never comes).

Virtual World toys are getting more sophisticated (and awesome) - with Clickables “sharing & caring” play patterns; iToys’ Me2 plug-in seems to be offering kids a virtual reward for being real-world active; and Bella Sara folks really digging deep into the effective play patterns associated to trading cards & girls. Ethan Wood, Senior Industrial Manager at Mattel (working on UB Funkeys), said that toy companies need to spend time building a toy first before building a virtual world. The concept needs to have story to successfully interact with a virtual experience.

The panel, Purse Strings and Piggy Banks: Generating Revenue from Young Users, continued to talk about how important SAFETY is – not just for the user, but to secure the parents’ support. For companies catering to young users, there are only a few minutes to convince them. As PBSKids explained, “The conversation of ‘Yes, we have advertising, but if you buy subscription, you don’t have to see ads’ is long-winded and difficult to make instantly clear.” Everything (especially safety) needs to be obvious up front, and easy. As the folks from Magi Nation said, “roughly 90% of the audience won’t pay”, so you have to make your entire process as inviting as possible, “with little frustration to the user.”

Marketing and licensing still continues to be sensitive in virtual worlds, but gaining strength. Habbo, WeeWorld, and AIM spoke about sponsorships and how to use them correctly in virtual worlds. Campaigns need to have beginnings, middles and ends that organically fit within the world or the user’s experience. If a sponsorship/licensing campaign does not move seamlessly into the environment, it can offend the user and stunt the experience. Jeremy Monroe from Sulake mentioned that at Habbo “anything more than 4 weeks (for a campaign) is pushing it – both labor & engagement. You have entry levels for each level of participate: new user, long time user, part time user, evangelist user. You must make sure you have a game pattern for each to explore and enjoy.”

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