Sunday, April 23, 2006

Making Rain in a Virtual Economy

Virtual worlds are pretty interesting and are getting a lot bigger.
Essentially they are private economies. Imagine an economy entirely run and owned by Sony.
Sort of like a company town - except work is replaced by play and so there is never a shortage of "employment" available (as long as there are paying members. Unpopular worlds do close sometimes though.)
Traditional advertising potential is less interesting than the idea of a virtual market with virtual property, possessions and even virtual status and social aspects for sale.
There was some talk of virtual TV a while ago where you could maybe buy the clothing you see on an episode of some show.
Interactive games are much more visceral than that. People can be the character in the show and need that clothing or whatever in a way they can't feel just from TV. The experience itself is advertising. As if a rain gear company could make it rain in the real world. Or if the "government" could encourage more gas guzzelling cars to sell more gas (oh wait...that does happen in the real world...) Anyway, control of the reality of the game is a much more compelling form of advertising than billboards. Not only that, but the means of production is totally controlled by the company owning the game.
What you need, they provide. The only cost to them is a sort of "inflation" that would come from saturating the economy with too much stuff which can be bartered (so in some games, what can be bartered is restricted. Again by the company).
It's a nightmare 1984 totalitarian world in the form of play. Except playing is optional of course.
But 90% of the junk people buy is optional (hand held blenders, BMWs, big TVs etc). So the game is as real as any other social interaction.

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