Why RL Businesses Fail in Second Life, Part 2

Tuesday, October 9, 2007 Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In my previous article on RL business experiences, I explained my theory that there are more immersionists than augmentationists, and that RL companies fail because they do not correctly address the larger market.

In RL companies have discovered products that people require for their RL activities. Massive businesses have been created around these needs: fast food, clothing, entertainment, manufacturing and many others. Business that do not address RL needs generally don't exist because they die out.

In Second Life the same principles are in play: companies must discover products that are useful for Second Life activities. These products are not necessarily the same as RL products. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A RL company produces perfume. Second Life has no means of implementing a sense of smell, so a perfume product simply cannot be created.
  • A RL company produces food. Food objects can be created in Second Life, and to some degree might be animated to emit steam, sizzle or slowly disappear as they pretend to be consumed. But no one “needs” food in Second Life. Second Life “Food” is merely decorative, adding to the rich visual experience (but not the smell or taste experience).
  • A RL company produces clothing. Clothing is commonly created and sold in Second Life, so you might figure that clothing can be routinely “carried over” between worlds. However, there are subtle differences between RL and Second Life that can affect the clothing experience. Avatars are have different (often exaggerated) size and shape ratios, making the clothing hang differently, color and texture appear somewhat differently due to visual resolutions. RL clothing stretches and moves; Second Life clothing doesn't. These subtle changes can mean the difference between a successful clothing item or a failure. As in RL, Second Life clothing is decorative, adding to the rich visual experience. Hey, didn't I say that already?

Yes, I did. Because there is a clear pattern here. The visual richness of many successful Second Life products directly adds to the avatar's immersionist experience, perhaps because of a deep and powerful psychological effect where RL memories or concepts are visually triggered.

Like art. Second Life products are essentially a kind of artwork. I recall a long time ago I learned that the measure of art is not what it looks like, but instead how it makes you feel. That's what's going on with the successful products. That's why they sell.

A RL running shoe is sold because not because it looks cool; it sells because it makes the owner feel cool wearing them! A Second Life running shoe sells because it makes the owner feel cool, or get closer to their immersionist universe. A RL shoe sold in Second Life does not sell just because it is a top seller in RL. It must also make the owner feel cool or otherwise aid their immersionist vision. I know this to be true since my customers very often “Oooh” or “Ahhh” when they see products I have built.

Like clothing, RL products cannot simply be duplicated in Second Life. The only market for duplicates is the aficionados who are already weirdly compelled to buy, like someone who collects Coke paraphernalia. And bad news for the RL company: the aficionados probably already own that product in RL and few net new RL sales are made.

Now you might think there are some exceptions to this. For example, some successful Second Life products are gadgets of some kind. I suggest, however, that the ultimate purpose of most gadgets is to indirectly add to the rich visual experience by simplifying steps to achieve that experience. Consider the numerous HUDs that allow the user to more easily control their rich visual experience.

So my bottom line is this: successful Second Life products should add to the visual experience, either directly or indirectly.

By now RL companies must be asking, “but what can I do in Second Life? How can I make money like I do in RL?” I think there are some answers, but that's something I will save for another post in coming weeks.


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