Analysts Identify the Five Laws for Virtual Worlds During Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2007 Emerging Trends, Analysts Say IT Leaders Must Take the Initiative to Innovate
STAMFORD, Conn., April 24, 2007 — By the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a “second life”, but not necessarily in Second Life, according to Gartner, Inc.
Gartner analysts are examining the hype and reality around virtual worlds during Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2007: Emerging Trends, being held here through April 26. Gartner’s advice to enterprise clients is that this is a trend that they should investigate and experiment with, but limit substantial financial investments until the environments stabilize and mature.
“The collaborative and community-related aspects of these environments will dominate in the future, and significant transaction-based commercial opportunities will be limited to niche areas, which have yet to be clearly identified,” said Steve Prentice, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “However, the majority of active Internet users and major enterprises will find value in participating in this area in the coming years.”
Meaningful corporate use of public virtual worlds/platforms will lag considerably behind individual consumer use as enterprises struggle to develop appropriate and relevant business models. As enterprise try to define their role in the virtual world, Gartner has identified five laws for companies participating in the virtual world. They include:
First Law: Virtual worlds are not games, but neither are they a parallel universe (yet). The initial reaction of many business leaders when faced with virtual worlds is to dismiss them as a mere “game” of no benefit to the enterprise and something to be banned for wasting compute resources and time. Many of those that see beyond the gaming elements immediately veer toward questions such as “How do we exploit this as a sales channel?” This reaction is equally incorrect and potentially even more damaging to the enterprise. “Growth in virtual worlds is significant but lower than it appears; the overall population of non-game virtual worlds is still small compared to massively multi-user online games (MMOGs) and the totality of community-oriented and niche-targeted environments,” Mr. Prentice said.
Second Law: Behind every avatar is a real person. Gartner said people can’t be fooled by the fantasy elements in the virtual world. There are unwritten rules and expectations for behavior and culture are developing. Enterprise users must consider their corporate reputations.
Third Law: Be relevant and add value. Many commercial companies have established a virtual world presence, but none have converted it into an effective, profitable sales channel. There has been criticism of early corporate entries into the virtual world, Second Life, related to the showrooms usually being empty and lacking atmosphere. While there have been a limited number of individuals who have earned more than $5,000 per year from their virtual world businesses, most corporations will see minimal revenue gains in the market at this time. “Do not expect to undertake profitable commercial activities inside most virtual worlds in the next three years,” Mr. Prentice said.
Fourth Law: Understand and contain the downside. Enterprises face serious questions, such as “Could activities in the virtual world undermine or influence my organization/brand in the real world?” With significant portions of the virtual economy based on adult oriented activities, questions of appropriate behavior and ethics also arrive. In-world behavior can be a problem in public areas; annoying interruptions can range from unintentional arrivals and erratic behavior from new residents whose avatar control is still suspect to misdemeanors such as graffiti, to more-concerted protest activities designed to disrupt.
Fifth Law: This is a long haul. Today’s multiplicity of virtual environments has developed through the convergence of social networking, simulation and online gaming. There are many new entrants, whose stability and scalability are not yet established. There is significant probability that, over time, market pressures will lead to a merging of current virtual worlds into a smaller number of open-sourced environments that support the free transfer of assets and avatars from one to another with the use of a single, universal client.
Gartner recommends that enterprises should experiment with virtual worlds, but not plan massive projects, and look for community benefits rather than commerce. “Find enthusiasts within your enterprise and support them. Understand the implications for access to open virtual platforms from within the enterprise and the risks involved,” Mr. Prentice said. “Despite the concerns within companies, don’t ignore this trend. They will have a significant impact on your enterprise during the next five years.”