Although companies can stick their feet into virtual worlds for a mere tens of thousands of (US) dollars, serious return on investment really requires expenditures in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Sibley Verbeck, CEO of The Electric Sheep Company, a virtual worlds software, content and services provider.
In an ECT News Network Podcast Series interview, Verbeck says the business applications of virtual worlds that are targeted to kids are fairly mainstream. And business applications focused internally on the corporate enterprise are in the experimental stage but growing.
Having created virtual worlds applications and content for the likes of the television show “C.S.I. New York,” MTV and Pepsi, Verbeck and Electric Sheep are right in the middle of the emergence of business applications for virtual worlds.
Making Business Inroads
Growing business applications include corporate recruiting, training, meetings and retail, Verbeck says.
Retail represents a growth market for virtual worlds, Verbeck says. In three to five years, he predicts, companies will be creating virtual stores that are much more interactive and entertaining than the current experience of Web-based shopping.
Key trends that he sees evolving over the next 3 to 5 years include businesses of all types embracing the use of virtual worlds, virtual meetings emerging as a key enterprise application of virtual worlds, and virtual world technology and applications combining with Web technology for a more seamless experience.
One key tip Verbeck has for corporations considering applying virtual worlds to the enterprise: Expect significant software development, as even off-the-shelf software must be customized to meet the needs of specific applications.
Listen to the podcast. (20:14 minutes)
Here are some excerpts of the podcast:
LinuxInsider: As it currently stands right now, where do you see the market in terms of business adoption of virtual worlds?
Really I see it in a highly varied state. So with kids’ properties, for example, virtual worlds have become very mainstream, where there are scores if not hundreds of kids’ brands, whether it’s toys, movies, books or entirely new brands being started up that have virtual worlds for kids. So pretty much anyone out there having to do with the age group of 12 and under is participating in the virtual world industry or trying to figure out how to do so. And there are millions and millions of kids spending as much time in virtual worlds today as have been watching television, if not more.
So that’s starting to become a more mature industry, getting past the very early experimental stages to some significant success. That’s one corner of the industry.
Another corner, for example, is the use of virtual worlds within the enterprise for virtual meetings, for training, for example. And that is at a very early experimental stage. There are very few, if any, companies that have deployed virtual world technology on a widespread basis within the enterprise. Pretty much that’s non-existent.
What’s really happening is, IT departments or corporate training departments are experimenting with the initial tools that are out there and figuring out what features are needed and what learnings they can gather on virtual worlds, and really whether the technology is ready.
I think that something that may explode over the next couple of years, or something that’s going to feel like it’s exploding even though it will take a few years to play out in its entirety, is actual retail shopping online. So I believe that virtual worlds and virtual world spaces on Web sites will provide an online e-commerce solution for consumers that’s as efficient as shopping on the Web today but that has a lot more of the social shopping of the browsing and of the customer service elements of virtual world shopping.
LI: Let’s say I’m a person who wants to shop in a virtual world. How do you see that playing out?
I see that playing out where obviously many companies have put up, in a way, online stores, which are really Web sites where you can search you can click you can buy something and check out, etc. I see companies of many types of goods putting up virtual worlds on their Web site, so you still would go to a particular retailer’s Web site, but in addition to that search, click, find, buy, which is sometimes all you need — you know what you’re looking for, you just want to most efficiently buy it and order it. You could have an experience where you, perhaps even with people you know, come in and browse in a little bit more 3-D fashion, so it’s easier to see a wide selection of goods, interact with them, pick some things out, perhaps if it’s clothing, try something on an avatar that has your dimensions, for example, mix and match things, find more information about products, really see them in a more interactive fashion.
It varies highly from product category — how you would create that. But also really have a customer experience where there’s someone there tending the store. For retailers, it’s going to be a lot like opening a new location.
LI: Talk about a situation where you’ve created a virtual world for a corporation where they’ve used it either internally or externally for business purposes. Can you give me an example of that?
There’s been a lot of interest in customer-facing virtual worlds. We’ve done everything from projects with media companies, such as we did a big project last year with “C.S.I. New York” the television show, so that was about engaging with the fans of that show, keeping it on a more interactive level.
I’ll mention a few projects that we’ve done right now and then I can dive into an example. We’ve done a number of brand campaigns. We’ve worked with a number of brands in MTV’s virtual world; also, we’ve helped brands come in and market to the users, for example Pepsi, P&G, a number of brands there. We’ve done for a company a number of recruitment events — in that case I can’t name the company, but we have done recruiting events for finding new hires and vetting new hires through a virtual world experience that’s been very successful.
We’ve been doing some corporate training projects as well, where companies have been exploring how to improve the effectiveness of their training of new employees or employees who need ongoing information about new products that that company creates through a very interactive, visual virtual experience as well.