September 15, 2006

Gridhopping: Kami Huyse's new PR roundtable

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"If you can work a room in real life, you can work a room in Second Life." --Ezekial Goodliffe, aka Jeremy Pepper

For those who don't know, one of the big ways Second Life distinguishes itself from its competitors is by its attitude regarding "in-game economies;" that is, the practice of players buying and selling virtual goods within the game among themselves, for real-world money, leaving the owners of the game environment out of the loop altogether. Most game companies see such a thing as a personal affront, as well as money coming out of their pocket, a disruption to the tightly controlled environment they so meticulously built; Linden Lab, however, makers of SL, sees these in-grid transactions as a crucial element of the game experience itself, and have created such things as an in-game micro-economy, currency exchange and open-source scripting to help facilitate the process.

A smart move, really, for a game that has no pre-determined "point;" for if the owners aren't going to come up with a compelling reason to be playing the game, it falls to the players themselves to do so, and under such a system these players need as much help as they can get. By embracing a radical form of free-market capitalism in the grid, Linden in effect empowers each and every player there to become a highly motivated one-person entrepreneur; when real money is at stake, after all, it inspires people to always be coming up with new things, things their competitors aren't doing, things that will make them stand out in a crowded market. And indeed, as legendary stories about virtual entrepreneurial success continue to spill out of the grid's fabled history, this inspires more and more non-players to join SL and become entrepreneurs themselves; and in what might be the most surreal twist of all, now even successful RL companies are starting to get into the act, building virtual presences in the grid and hoping to get a slice of the half-million US dollars (300,000 pounds, 400,000 euros) that are now exchanged between players there each and every day.

For the majority of SL's three-year history, such virtual entrepreneurs have pretty much had to go it alone; but with the growing interest in SL's in-game economy among the traditional business world (including an infamous cover article in BusinessWeek earlier this year), more and more of the business world's support industries are starting to enter the grid too, people like marketing specialists and ad agencies, media buyers and coolhunters. And this of course is another brilliant side-effect of Linden embracing an in-game economy; that as people play it more and more for complex, sociological, "non-gamey" reasons, the game attracts more and more people who are not the usual videogame enthusiasts, marking SL more and more as not a traditional videogame at all, but rather a singularly unique experience that can only be had under that particular brand.

One such person to get recently interested, for example, is real-life PR professional Kami Huyse, a Texas-based veteran of the industry, who immediately saw how useful a place like the grid could be for global networking meetups (a staple in her profession, as those from the business world know). So, she started up just such a thing, and made it an open invitation at her blog, which is how it is that I ended up attending myself. Known as Kamichat Watson there, she is unfortunately still a homeless player; so this month's meetup was instead hosted by Lee Laperriere's Comms Cafe, who in RL is business-communication expert Lee Hopkins. (Next month's meeting, then, will be hosted by media company Text 100, with November's meetup sponsored by Spin Martin's Hipcast Expo Center, run in RL by the always indubitable Eric Rice.) The meetup itself was a sort of semi-formal question and answer session with Ezekial Goodliffe, who in RL is popular PR professional Jeremy Pepper, author of "Pop! PR Jots," someone who's been porting into the grid now longer than just about anyone else in the PR industry.

Now, I won't pretend that this first meetup held any kinds of earth-shattering revelations about marketing within SL; many of the participants, in fact, had signed up just that day specifically to attend this event, and much of the discussion was devoted to what makes the grid such a unique place to begin with. Still, though, I think it's interesting to see a growing amount of people in the traditional marketing world start to embrace something like SL, and also interesting to see the rapidly growing number of those people who truly "get it." Ultimately, Second Life marketing is done for the same reason viral marketing is done, or experiential marketing -- not for the direct benefits the actual campaigns might hold, but for the extensive amount of external interest in the company such campaigns bring. This new breed of marketer sees the grid the same way they might see cellphones; as simply another tool, another platform in which to get across a message, one with a lot of room for innovation and notice but not a lot of traditional business people doing so yet.

Anyway, you can always learn of the latest over at Kami's blog; I'm looking forward to seeing how this group progresses, and what kinds of interesting ideas might be coming out of it in the future.

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PR people in Second Life from Marketing Begins At Home
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