On the first day of this year’s Game Developers Conference a talk was held by Reuben Steiger, CEO of Millions of Us to discuss the marriage of entertainment brands and online worlds.
Steiger began the company 19 months ago when he saw “was at a certain point, Second Life became [big]... there’s an interest from corporations when a population gets large.”
The company was set up to help these corporations understand how to use virtual worlds to not just make money, but to enhance and enrich other mediums, and to ensure that “Second Life was not a singular phenomena.”
He sees virtual worlds as “sharing genetic material with pre-existing media... film, games, theater.” He illustrated the idea of virtual worlds as a storytelling opportunity by showing a side by side comparison of a photo of a group or real life people gathered around a campfire, and a virtual representation in Second Life.
Stories around the campfire are “something that’s been going on for hundreds of thousands of years.” and storytelling itself is the “bedrock of human culture and communication.” But in the Second Life version of the campfire, the congregants are from all over the world sharing the same virtual experience.
Despite the hopeful nature of the comparison though, Steiger says that “the Internet has sort of failed as a story telling medium.” mentioning funny videos of a monkey falling off a tree branch, or the infamous Star Wars kid. “There’s a place for that, bit it’s not [currently] a foundational medium that will change how we think and live.”
“Virtual worlds are maybe games, maybe not games.” Defining the basic characteristic of games as having goals, rules, competition and fun. “Most people don’t see virtual worlds that way, and that’s fair” He sees the reason virtual worlds have captured imagination as being “the lack of rules, it’s been the openness that has defined virtual worlds... it’s been a different definition of fun.” It’s fun the way the user defines it, not a game designer.”
But he sees hybrids with more traditional game mechanics as “probably a lot more mass market friendly,” but also it will “allow us to tell our stories on a much broader and more universal level... a less walled canvas.”
An example is a successful Second Life game they created for the CW network’s Gossip Girl, as show he described as “Sex in the City for teenagers.” They built a virtual upper east side, but added a game element. With a virtual sidekick, the user can rate and gossip about all the other avatars in range.
The user can view gossip on any avatar, except their own. The more positive the user’s avatar is rated, the more points they get which then allows them to purchase higher end clothing and merchandising.
The results were “out of control” which Steiger attributed to the fact that “teenagers do not think like normal humans.” During the writer’s strike, 150,000 people would log in daily despite the lack of new episodes being broadcast.
Steiger closed with his predictions for the coming year; social networks will become “avatarized”, virtual worlds will become more like social networks, and television tie-ins will increase for virtual worlds.