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In the fast-evolving virtual worlds online, such as There.com, Second Life, and Entropia Universe, the real world of major consumer brands and big tech companies is starting to blur the lines between real and fantasy economies. Toyota, Nissan, IBM, Dell, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, and a cottage industry of marketing firms started rushing the gates of these persistent online universes last fall. The fantasy avatars that people create and the virtual neighborhoods they construct in these worlds suddenly started feeling a bit more real as the same car and computer dealerships they experience in everyday life popped up next door. As we will see in this first part of our two-part coverage, response to this blending of real and virtual economies is decidedly mixed. This month we look at how real-world marketing and branding are penetrating the carefully constructed fantasies of virtual universes. In our second part next month, we explore how the virtual world elements are being purchased, bartered, and sold in the real world.
The Marketers Rush In
The presence of real-world brands in virtual universes is nothing new, of course. When we previewed the launch of the 3D universe There.com several years ago, Levis was selling jeans to residents. Now, There.com is helping MTV power its own 3D online extension of a hit TV show, Virtual Laguna Beach (www.vlb.mtv.com). Here, the entire world is a branded media experience. In Electronic Arts’ Sims Online, McDonalds pushed burgers. At the wildly popular international world Habbo Hotel (www.habbo.com), advertisers such as…
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