I got on the virtual world bandwagon a few years back and tried Second Life, but it didn’t stick. It was too much work, too confusing, not enough motivation, so I gave up. Recently, I decided to give it another try, so I logged back in. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the UI is sleeker and it’s not as confusing as before, that being said, the learning curve is still darn steep.
LA Times recently did a great story on companies who are on Second Life and they all seem to be veteran technology companies. It’s obvious from the home page that SL is serious about pitching to businesses, and they have managed to get some well-known brand names IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Intel among the major brand names on the platform.The marketing/business strategy for SL is to bring on businesses who leverage it for internal communication and drive traffic by pitching the site to their employees and customers. However, in order to make it a sustainable success, SL needs to bring more businesses on board.
Few years back, SL had created a huge buzz as the coolest place in cyberspace and consumer companies were flocking to it in droves. However, the companies soon realized that the virtual world audience was more extreme than the mainstream. The LA times story says,
Where people are, marketers want to be. Two years ago, companies such as American Apparel and footwear maker Adidas started filling Second Life with stores and buildings. The virtual world’s early inhabitants, who largely disdain anything with a corporate tinge, rebelled by launching terrorist attacks and starting gunfights in the shops. Faced with empty storefronts and ridicule, many companies pulled out.
The first time I logged in a few years back, I was confronted by a gal who asked me if I had any money. Then I ran into another gal who warned me against hitting on her boyfriend. WTF?! This time around, I got invited to a sex dungeon and I don’t even want to know what’s coming the next time I log in. Since organizations have their own private island/location, they are ‘protected’ from the riff-raff of the surrounding worlds but it doesn’t help the site’s image, if it continues to be associated with insidious content.
I think, Second LIfe would drive a higher rate of adoption if they cleaned up their risque image. There’s a serious disconnect between the audience they are trying to woo and images portrayed on the site. The tattoo-covered gangsta-looking dude right above their pitch on ‘Your Organization in Second Life’ on the home page doesn’t exactly evoke warm-fuzzy feelings. How conducive are corporations to let their employees slink around semi-nude and replete with piercings, even if it is in the virtual world?
I think someone at SL should take a serious look at:
a) Make it easier for mainstream businesses (the non-geek companies) to get started on SL
b) Yes, sex sells and that’s what made SL so notorious in the first place, but if that’s not the business it wants to be in, SL should either get rid of the sexually explicit content or launch a new brand/site with a cleaner image.
Creating separate worlds/islands helps corporate-types avoid having to deal with rest of the chaos that is SL, but until it cleans up its act, SL’s risque brand image will always work against it, especially when it’s trying to bring on new businesses.