The issue with flooding the market & VW as Marketing Tools

Trilogy Studios CEO Michael Pole was briefly profiled in the LA Times last week. Concluding the article was a look at thing to come: “A project with DreamWorks and a virtual world with celebrity musicians.” Trilogy lists DreamWorks as one of its past clients, but I hadn’t heard about future work. It’s not clear what the project will focus on, but Trilogy has a blog post in its media center noting the success of DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda on the opening weekend and DreamWorks announced a toy-based online experience for its upcoming Madagascar sequel at this year’s Toy Fair.

Virtual Worlds News: Trilogy Studios Working on Dreamworks Virtual World

Okay. Good, great, grand…

It’s clear that everybody loves the Virtual World, and that’s nifty. I know, I know – I sound a little crabby today about competition, but I assure you – this has nothing to do with competition.

My issue with these “toss a virtual world at it because kids will like the movie” nonsense is more about the contract between the community & the world entity.

Look at how things went down with VMK (Virtual Magic Kingdom). Thousands of petitions and upset individuals and crying children and irrate parents. Kids with disabilities, kids with social anxiety, children who just wanted to find friends in a world they love. Same goes for the teen and adult members who connected on the site. Child, adult – it almost doesn’t matter WHAT the demographic is… if you build a world, a place for individuals to settle and exist, no matter how virtual it is– you better be ready for all that entails.

And what does that entail – a promise that you’re building a thriving environment with all the spirit, hope, and existence you offered in inviting people to join the society.

Building a virtual world specifically for an IP/Brand that will be popular for a 6 month marketing plan and then shrugging after that 6 month marketing plan is over is RIDICULOUS. Why? Because > what happens to the marketing dollars spent to keep that brand alive POST marketing phase?

I remember talk of a Speed Racer virtual world. This would have been a prime example. Putting out a virtual world for a property that holds no long term obsessiveness (like Disney continually does with its brands – by supporting it regularly with TV and Theme Park attractions). Instead, Speed Racer showed up in the Funkey’s virtual world, and got some action for it. Smarter than building a full virtual world for a property that will only be fun on boys’ t-shirts for about 2 months more, and then kinda drift off to that place where the movie “Godzilla” (with Matthew Broderick) and “Hulk” (the version for a handful of years ago with Eric Bana) disappeared to…

On the flip side, another brand who took an interesting path is Hello Kitty – not only do they have their own MMO (which I’m pumped for cos it looks like a cup cake, but frustrated about – because they are already shady about their COPPA practices in Sanrio Town, where they are having youth sign up for Beta), and yet they also have Hello Kitty elements in Buildabearville, which has a preexisting community that thrives.

Now… it’s not saying they ARE building a virtual world for Madagascar, and the mention in the article above is barely even hinting at it… but the point is, if this is going to be the way of this “Oh look, a sequel to a so-so kids movie w/big stars is coming out, let’s build a virtual world” thought process, then I’d ask those Powers That Be to take a GOOD LONG LOOK at their decision & strategy. Are they prepared to keep that virtual world open for OVER 5 YEARS? And, if after 6 months the world is doing well-ish, but the movie is fading away, are they going to have the $$$ and thoughtfulness to keep that world open?

Or, are they going to attempt it the VMK way – which is just shrug and say “well, it was just supposed to be a promotion.”

No more fingers pointing at VMK, by the way. They made a lovely public mistake that opened MANY eyes. And it goes to show, if you’re going to build yourself a virtual world for the youth demographic (who, despite my earlier ‘eh, no cares if its an adult world or kids world’, is the uber-sensitive demo), there are some questions to ask first:

  • What is the purpose of your world?
  • Who is it for?
  • Are you ready for the legal liability for that demographic?
  • Are you planning a proper strategy that is organic for that play pattern, yet gives both the business and the audience exactly the fulfillment they need?
  • Do you have a safety team on board?
  • Do you have a customer service team on board?
  • Do you have a community team on board?
  • Do you have management for each with experience in this market?
  • Who is paying the bills (which department)?
  • Who is going to run the tech (not just the build)?
  • What is the scalability for moderation (price for screeners 24/7)?
  • How long do you plan on having this virtual world?
  • Does your brand support a play pattern that will excel in the virtual world format?
  • Does the longevity expected of a virtual world correlate with the longevity of the property (both at minimum and maximum)?
  • How honest are you going to be with the audience?
  • How are you going to market it?
  • How are you going to cross promote it?
  • Are toys/subscription/microbuys going to be enough of a sales tool?
  • What happens to the audience if you decide to end the virtual world experience?
  • Are you prepared to give the appropriate build time for the virtual world?

Sorry if I seem sassy… I’m just worried about the future of virtual worlds if big entertainment companies start saying lovely buzz-worthy-ish terms like “oh, build a virtual world for it” for properties that honestly do not have a world-worthy shelf life. Why? Because it will (in my humble opinion, forgive me if you disagree), taint the market and change the awesome path virtual worlds are currently building….

That’s my thought, anyone agree/disagree/have other points?

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  1. July 2, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Izzy, far from sounding crabby or sassy, I think this is one of the most insightful articles on VWs I have read – your questions are really valuable



  2. July 3, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    Liam, as always, you are an absolute gem. Thanks for the kind words! 😀

  3. July 18, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Izzy, we really, really REALLY needed to hear these questions at the YPulse session on virtual worlds…I’m still out of town but dying to talk to you re: the whole Meebo/IM cross-platform live chat bit, as I was just settling into a comfy, ‘oh this is cool’ use of the back end channel at Ypulse when whammo, they’ve got another 8 partners and cross-platform portability in online communities which means a gazillion ad opps and kids bouncing hither and yon…so I need to get a handle on the moderation aspects, internet safety issues, etc. Help?

    Here’s my post on Shaping Youth about it: Any input would be MUCH appreciated!!!

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