Noted Gartner Analyst Steven Prentice Updates His Predictions on Virtual Worlds

Steven Prentice, the noted Gartner analyst who predicted that by "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" added to his predictions on the future of virtual worlds today. Prentice delivered his keynote remarks as an avatar at the opening session of Clever Zebra’s Vbusiness Expo, July 30, 2008 (http://vbusinessexpo.com). The event took place on a virtual world platform created by Forterra Systems Inc (http://www.forterrainc.com).

Where: A virtual meeting space developed by Forterra Systems for Vbusiness Expo

The real world Prentice was reported to be in Australia.

Prentice Defines Virtual Worlds

What is a virtual world? Prentice said a virtual worls is a presence in a space where interaction takes place in real time with digital personas.

Prentice pointed out that our avatar’s identity represents how we want to be perceived.

Measure and Define? How big?

Prentice said to examine data provided by:

· Strategy Analytics - *(http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=4036)
· K-Zero *(http://www.kzero.co.uk/blog/?page_id=2092) – 30 million active users in virtual worlds although many without a credit card.

* URLs added by author

How Many Participants? Who Is In Virtual Worlds Now?

· With gaming numbers included, half billion
· Need to understand when evaluating current numbers that there is a large gulf between those who sign in and those who play. The ratio is ten or 12:1 down-loaders vs. active users. Relatively accurate user number example: Habbo (http://www.habbo.com).
· Ratio of kids actually who sign up and participate in-world is less differentiated than overall population.

Virtual Worlds are dominated by kids. Kids in Prentice’s view, don’t like Second Life as there is nothing to do there. Prentice said: 30 and over are most dedicated users of virtual worlds. Prentice believes that understanding demographic of users is most important consideration to creating a successful virtual world presence.

Overview of Virtual World’s Early History

Prentice Assessment:

· Issue One - Techies Predominate: VWs now tend to be dominated by people with technical background. This fact contributes to a problem he sees as prevalent: solutions created by these people tend to be complex and suffer from feature creep. Case study example MS Office. How many people actually use all the features in MS Office? Concluded: technologists are not good at creating features for people.

· Issue Two – Role of User-Generated Content Is Over Emphasized: Content creation in virtual worlds is necessary, but most people don’t have the inclination or skills to create content. People are principally interested in the sociability of VWs which means that exercising opportunity to build things takes a second seat to belonging. Prentice suggests that VWs concentrate on building a community and then create a world that meets their needs.

Reasons Why Emphasis Should Be On Community

Community & socialization are secondary to creation. What attracts people to groups? Most people prefer familiar customs and interests. His example, if you go to a Barbie Doll site, you’ll meet people of similar interests; this is the makings of a community.

Fearing the criticism of the Second Lifers devotees, he said SL is not failure, but compared to other kids worlds which have less development tools, i.e. like Habbo Hotel than SL is less successful in participatory terms. When Prentice asked Linden Labs(SL creators) about their target market for SL they told him it is everyone on the planet. Habbo knows their audience.

He concluded that virtual worlds with rich development tools have a role, but are niche. Returning to the rasion d’être for VW participation, he suggested that people need environments that substantiates (my word) their self esteem.

What’s Needed To Make VW’s a Success

Developers should focus on the level of engagement. Of principal importance is that VWs must be fun-– kids know what’s fun. For adults, in his view, determining fun is more difficult because adults have real world responsibilities, i.e. pay the mortgage.

Online Games Represent A Model

Prentice suggested looking to gaming which combines fun with the well established rules for online game success. Prentice elaborated, saying, in VW for tweens the virtual world have strong elements of casual gaming in which individuals in the community can show “how” smart they are.

Returning to the subject of current virtual world shortcomings he suggested that they shouldn’t be so difficult to use; kids work out interfaces by trial and error. To underscore this point he added that kids will give a free pass on functionality and the strength of a virtual world’s feature set.

Use in Business: The Impediment of the IT Class

In prefacing his remarks on impediments to VW adoption Prentice pointed out that the focus of Gartner’s business is primarily large enterprise.

Based on conversations with the corporate community he sees that IT must confront shift regarding ownership and access to information. This will lead to a change in the way IT enterprises work. IT was previously the gate keepers of our use of various communication channels was based upon their permission. To emphasize this point Prentice said, Google docs does not make sense to IT people.

To highlight his view, Prentice said, new generation does not see computers as technology any more.

Present Benefits & Past Mistakes

1. Current VW Benefits

Saw benefit of VWs as communities allowing us to break free of geography.

Prentice determined that developers should consider what can be transferred from the real to the virtual world as related to what we buy: there is social validation in the way we shop.

2. Recent History’s Mistakes - Where did we go wrong?

Prentice said that early VW entrants didn’t understand demographics and didn’t try to understand the community. Posed question: was it success based on objectives even though metrics were not in place?

Success: Where Current VWs Are Working


1. Education

In education VWs provide a setting for learning, particularly training which takes advantage of what VW offer: the ability to simulate non-deterministic outcomes.

High costs simulations re emergency situations present attractive situations for VWs. Presently 70% of corps now use interactive software and half use role playing. But, Prentice insisted, corps must still control deployment in order to limit the cost.

2. Broadcast Media

Prentice sees VWs as an adjunct to traditional media channels. Cited example: CSI and Second Life which provide an opportunity to engage with an audience and engage in a way TV cannot. Prentice saw the possibility that TV may end up being the conduit to VW.

3. VWs for Tweens & Teens are now and will continue to be successful.

4. Gaming Principles now used in online worlds will find their way into corporate training

5. Virtual Meetings will become more of an accepted practice. Here are the details:


Prentice urged the audience to look at the current reality of how work is being conducted today. Using himself as an example he said, I don’t have to go to the office any more.

Prentice pointed out that the bane of life for knowledge worker is meetings. Do we really have to jump on a plane to meet? We can use remote collaboration. Virtual World alternatives provide valuable, economically compelling alternatives, he concluded.

 

Author Don Schwartz


Technology Moderator Fast Company dot com

Dated: July 31, 2008

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