I sat in a pub about 11 years ago and described a scenario about product placement in online games almost identical to the one described here
Of course, I was very, very drunk
, but it was a moment of clarity for me. I started to see the full potential of the internet, not as a respository of documents to be searched and viewed, but as a completely new continent, waiting to be exploited.
In those days you programmed CGI in pure C, and hardly anyone had email except at work.
When Ultima Online came along in 1997, it seemed to be a step along the road that I had imagined - so I signed up for an account and was immediately hooked! I had play sessions that lasted 7-8 hours, on a dial-up link! I think the last time I played was 3 years ago, but I still have the account...
The thing is that brands need to be in the places where people's attention is, and their appeal is not limited to the real world. If you had to pay online money in a game for a car, would you pay more money for a Porsche - of course you would? It really depends on the target marketing of the brand. Any lifestyle or exclusivity brand will do well in an online situation.
But there's more to just product placement and passive advertising in MMORPGs. Everquest built in a command
that allowed the player to go to the Pizza Hut site, by just typing '/pizza'.
It can be better than this...
The real world marketing can be more immersive. Virtual worlds have real-estate and there are places where people congregate in these worlds (in Ultima it was around the banks). There are also objects in the games that people collect (e.g. statues, runestones).
Imagine an Ultima (or any other MMORPG) where you could walk into a shop, click on a relevant object and start a real world transaction. Your online character already has authentication built in, but probably doesn't have your address unless you are a subscription customer. Your bag of potions and weapons can also contain an object that you found which entitles you to a discount on the particular company's product. If I wanted to be really revolutionary I could, as a real world provider, accept payment in virtual currency (gold pieces) that I then sell on to a broker (perhaps MMORPGs would need better control of their money supply for this to be more than a promotional item!)
When penetration of MMORPGs gets to the levels of Lineage in Korea (subscriptions are around a third of the population), then it makes sense for companies to be there too.
Want to ask a question about our product? Come to the Great Hall in Trinsic, where our representatives are waiting for you. NPCs, but not as we know it.
It's a risky play for the Virtual World Operator (VWO), as too much of this could damage the ambience of the game. The question is how much of their audience would get upset by an encroachment of real world commerce into a fantasy world, and how many are there because it is a social event and an extension of their real world anyway.
To me, the idea of my character dashing into the virtual supermarket and putting a collection of items in my virtual bag, then dealing with an avatar at checkout actually appeals to me. I may also meet someone while fighting them for the last virtual loaf of bread (not entirely realistic, I know, given geographic distribution, but the image of zapping a virtual someone with my lightning bolt spell in order to get real bread delivered just tickles my fancy)
Web 2.0 is about Social interaction, perhaps Web 3.0 starts to take that to new levels. There are other ways to use the internet, browsers are not the only model.
Perhaps, in another 10 years...?
P.S. It helps if you read this post in the style of Rowley Birkin QC ;) Several glasses of Muga
also helps significantly!
UPDATE: I wonder if there is a collective web consciousness? I just read an article in Wired
, posted 10 days ago, with almost the same title (content is different). I swear I did not see it before writing this one! And look at this